GAME OF THE DAY
Florida (4-5, 3-4) at No. 10 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2), 7 p.m., ESPN2
NFL scouts still salivating
over Clowney despite stats
The staggering statistics are a thing of Jadeveon Clowney’s past, but it’s not going to have much effect on the staggering NFL contract he will receive next year.
That’s the prevailing opinion as Clowney’s South Carolina career nears its close. The junior defensive end has seen a dramatic drop in his production this season, but ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said Thursday, “He’s still No. 1” as a professional draft prospect.
“My attitude would be, unless you need a quarterback or a great left tackle, you take Jadeveon Clowney,” Kiper said.
Clowney, who set school records with 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss last season, has two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss this season. The school’s career sack record of 29, set by Eric Norwood from 2006-09, was considered an inevitability of being broken at the beginning of the season, but Clowney remains six sacks away.
“He’s still there,” Kiper said when asked if Clowney is regarded as the draft’s top prospect. “He’s right there. It’s hard to go through a brick wall, and that’s what teams are doing to him this year. They are walling him off. All the great players are targets. You can scheme to try to neutralize what they are doing.”
UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews are the other players in the mix for the top spot, Kiper said.
Clowney leads the Gamecocks with seven quarterback hurries.
Five NFL executives were asked anonymously by NFL.com this week if Clowney’s dramatic statistical drop-off is a minor or major issue in his draft evaluation. All five agreed it was a minor concern.
“He’s proven his ability to get to the quarterback,” one person said. “He’s, maybe, not as clean of a prospect as he was before the season, but I still think he’s going to be a stud in the NFL.”
Florida’s offensive line has surrendered 26 sacks, the third-highest total in the SEC this season.
— Josh Kendall, The State (Columbia, S.C.)
Gators untested QB
may be in cross hairs
As the week went on, Skyler Mornhinweg got more first-team snaps with the Florida offense.
Mornhinweg, a redshirt freshman, likely will start at quarterback for the Gators if Tyler Murphy is still deemed unable to play against South Carolina.
“Skyler’s been taking all the snaps this week,” coach Will Muschamp said. “We feel comfortable with him.”
Muschamp was hopeful that Murphy, who has battled a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder for about a month, would be able to throw and play, but he is questionable for the game.
“He’s got some soreness in there, and he’s had some swelling on it, so there is some discomfort as far as his movement is concerned,” Muschamp said. “That was kind of the situation in Missouri. We didn’t think he would play. We got out there, and I guess he got his adrenaline flowing there in the morning and felt pretty good and felt like he could go out there and give it a shot, and he did.”
Losing Murphy, who has completed 60.5 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and five interceptions, would be another blow to an already reeling Florida offense. The Gators rank 13th in the conference in scoring and last in total offense.
Mornhinweg has not thrown a pass in his college career, but has impressed teammates with his maturity while taking snaps with the first-team offense this week.
“He plays his game,” offensive tackle Max Garcia said. “He’s comfortable in managing the offense now. You can hear it in his voice when he’s in the huddle and he’s calling plays. You can see he’s getting more confident back there.”
It’s just more bad news for the Gators, who last missed a bowl game in Steve Spurrier’s debut season at his alma mater.
— Phillip Heilman, Palm Beach Post
Kentucky (2-7, 0-5) at Vanderbilt (5-4, 2-4), 12:21 p.m., WPCH
Vandy moves chains, even on fourth down
Vanderbilt offensive coordinator John Donovan doesn’t bat an eye on fourth down. Not at this point.
After three years of practicing James Franklin’s philosophy, he knows what’s coming. And he has a call ready to go.
“Right now I’m locked in on always being ready to go for it,” Donovan said. “(Franklin) does a good job of saying, ‘You’ve got two plays here (on third down).’ But even if he doesn’t, you’re still always ready for the next play.”
Vanderbilt moved the chains both times its offense remained on the field on fourth down last week at Florida to boost its season rate to 14-of-19 (73.7 percent) on fourth down.
That falls in line with the success Franklin’s teams enjoyed in his first two seasons at Vanderbilt, converting 17 of 30 (56.7 percent) in 2012 and 15 of 20 (75 percent) in 2011. Missouri is the lone SEC team converting fourth downs at a higher rate (6-of-8 for 75 percent) than Vanderbilt in 2013.
“As an offensive line, that’s something we take a lot of pride in,” senior left tackle Wesley Johnson said. “We love the short-yardage situations. That really allows us to play with a nasty demeanor and kind of attack the defense when we don’t get a chance to a lot of times on the field.
“We get pumped up. It’s a chance for us to make a big play and make a really big difference in the game. And we love that Coach trusts us enough to do that.”
Kentucky is one of two SEC teams to go for it on fourth down more often than Vanderbilt (5-4, 2-4 SEC), and first-year coach Mark Stoops has seen his Wildcats convert 16 of 23 fourth-down tries (69.6 percent).
— Jeff Lockridge, The Tennessean (Nashville, Tenn.)
No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0) at Mississippi State (4-5, 1-4), 7:45 p.m., ESPN
Bulldogs’ freshman defender finding his place in SEC
Johnny Manziel reminded Chris Jones why he wanted to play in the SEC.
Mississippi State’s freshman chased the reigning Heisman Trophy winner twice last weekend, once in the first quarter and again in the fourth.
“It was tiring man,” Jones said. “That guy, he’s an amazing guy. When I tackled him I had to tell him, ‘Man, you fast.’”
With Jones’ 6-foot-5, 305-pound body still on top of Manziel, the quarterback thanked him in a way only Johnny Football could.
“He told me, ‘That’s what’s up, big boy,’” Jones said.
The highly touted freshman continues his first season in the SEC and is playing at his highest level since arriving in Starkville.
“I’m kind of surprising myself. I had to put a little extra effort into it,” Jones said. “In high school, it was a little easy. You know, basic stuff. This stuff on the college level, you have game plan and have certain things you’ve got to do to help out your team.”
Jones’ numbers in his past four SEC games demonstrate his growth on the field. He has 12 tackles, including two for a loss and a sack. Jones also forced a fumble against South Carolina.
His sack on LSU’s Zach Mettenberger remains his only one of the season, but he leads Mississippi State with seven quarterback hurries.
Even as a freshman, Jones’ size allowed him to compete immediately. But his work before stepping on the field has paid dividends lately.
“It’s mental aspect. Trying to learn all these plays and you’ve got to know everybody’s play, not just your play,” Jones said. “You know I gotta know what the end, tackle and nose do. So it’s kind of hard.”
Jones signed with Mississippi State with the billing from some as the second-best prospect in the country. So far, his first season consists of nine games, three starts, 22 tackles (four for a loss) and a sack. They may seem pedestrian but the freshman has impacted games.
He’s also had to adjust to new positions. Mississippi State shifted Jones across the defensive line, from his high school position at defensive end inside to tackle.
“I’m really not a D-tackle. I might stick to it until I leave here. I’m not a D-tackle. I’m fully a D-end,” Jones said while laughing. “But I’m playing D-tackle for right now.”
— Michael Bonner, The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.)
Bulldogs relish shot at indestructible Crimson Tide
Top-ranked Alabama looks indestructible, winning its past seven games by at least three touchdowns and 26 of their past 27 games.
Mississippi State — a middling team by SEC standards — wouldn’t seem to be much of a challenge for the Crimson Tide.
But Alabama coach Nick Saban said his program has plenty of respect for the Bulldogs, despite their 14-game losing streak against nationally ranked opponents.
“I think they’re averaging winning every game by 31 points, so we’ll have our hands full,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “It’s a unique opportunity, and we’re going to enjoy that opportunity, and go out there and play with great effort for sixty minutes and see what we can do.”
Mississippi State will have a better chance to keep the game close if quarterback Dak Prescott is healthy. The sophomore ranks fifth in the SEC with 2,264 yards, but suffered a shoulder injury late in last weekend’s loss to Texas A&M.
Mullen has not said if Prescott will be available. The backup is senior Tyler Russell, who has thrown for 468 yards, three touchdowns and an interception this season.
Mississippi State’s offense has been effective for most of the season. The Bulldogs have averaged 459.2 yards per game, which would easily be a school record.
— David Brandt, Associated Press
Troy (5-5) at Ole Miss (6-3), noon, ESPNU
Climbing Rebels look for strong finish
Mississippi’s rise into a respectable SEC program continued last weekend when the Rebels beat Arkansas to earn bowl eligibility for a second consecutive season.
Now Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace said the program wants more. That’s why the junior says there’s no chance the Rebels (6-3) will overlook this nonconference game against Troy.
Ole Miss has won three games in a row and is an overwhelming favorite to get a fourth victory against the Trojans. The Rebels have two more conference games remaining against Missouri and Mississippi State. The Missouri game could be a statement game that not only moves the Rebels into a major bowl position, but also will scramble the SEC title game scenarios.
Troy has struggled this season under veteran coach Larry Blakeney. It’s the second time the Trojans have played an SEC opponent this season. The first game ended with a 62-7 loss to Mississippi State.
“Our mindset is just so much on nine wins right now,” Wallace said. “We have to reach that goal.”
Wallace threw for a career-high 416 yards in the victory against Arkansas last weekend. He’s quietly been one of the most productive players in the SEC this fall, ranking third in the league with 284.2 total yards per game. That mark trails only Manziel and Georgia’s Aaron Murray.
— David Brandt, Associated Press
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Compiled by Ray Cox