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September 15, 2006

Ask the experts: Week 3 in the SEC

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Get the inside scoop on your favorite team:

The Southeastern Conference already has staked a solid claim to being the bully on the block nationally this season.

Five of the top 13 teams in The Associated Press Top 25 poll are from the SEC.

LSU crushed Arizona, 45-3. Tennessee whipped California, 35-18.

Vanderbilt even covered the spread at Michigan.

So while this weekend is huge all over the country with seven matchups of top 25 teams, none of those matchups is bigger than the two happening in the SEC.

We turned to our experts at Auburn, LSU, Florida and Tennessee for their insights on the big weekend, Southern style. Here is what they've fried up for you:

No. 6 LSU at No. 3 Auburn
Jeffrey Lee of AuburnSports.com, talks about the Auburn Tigers:
If you had to pick one offensive player who has to come up big against LSU, who would it be?
QB Brandon Cox. Kenny Irons ran through the LSU defense a year ago on his way to 200-plus yards on the ground. I expect LSU to make stopping him their top priority, stacking eight and nine men in the box. As a result, Cox will have to keep them honest through the air.

Kicker John Vaughn is off to a great start this season. Can he set aside what happened in this game last season (1-for-6 on field goals) and hit a game-winner if needed?
Vaughn has missed only two field goals since the LSU game a year ago. In that time, he has connected on a 52- and 55-yard field goal, both career-bests at the time. Going into this game, his confidence is higher than ever. Given the opportunity, I think Vaughn gets his redemption.

JaMarcus Russell has been torrid through LSU's first two games. How does Will Muschamp plan on slowing down the Bayou Bengals' passing attack?
Russell has been prone to forcing throws, especially when not given much time to make decisions. Muschamp, having been at LSU just two years ago, knows this better than anybody. I don't expect Russell to have much time to throw the football. Auburn will blitz, blitz and blitz some more.

Mike Scarborough of TigerBait.com, talks about the LSU Tigers:
Les Miles and Jimbo Fisher don't seem to have settled on a running back. Is the committee approach working, or do you expect one back to get the majority of the carries against Auburn?
The issue at running back is giving Alley Broussard more reps each week. He had a handful against (Louisiana-Lafayette) and then two handfuls against Arizona with a TD. Charles Scott has been outstanding as well. I don't believe that Jacob Hester will get as many touches as he did the past two weeks. It's likely that Broussard gets cut loose entirely against Auburn. However, Justin Vincent is the starter.

JaMarcus Russell has been near-perfect to start the season. What has been the key for him so far and can he stay as hot against an excellent Auburn defense?
Russell is no different than any other QB in Jimbo Fisher's offense. They (Rohan Davey, Matt Mauck, etc.) have all seemed to put it together in their third year of actual play. He is more mature, he spent a considerable amount of time in the video room in the offseason, and he has arguably the best receiving corps in the nation to throw to. If he has a strong game against Auburn, I believe he is a definite Heisman Trophy candidate.

Kenny Irons destroyed the LSU defense a year ago. Is he priority No. 1 for Bo Pelini's defense?
I don't know that Irons is any more of a priority than any other running back the Tigers will face, but certainly Pelini will want to stop the run and make Cox beat them. No doubt that they believe it will be a tall order for Cox. He has a questionable group of young receivers going up against the best defensive backfield in the nation in safeties LaRon Landry and Jessie Daniels and cornerbacks Chevis Jackson and Jonathan Zenon. Zenon leads the nation in interceptions.


No. 7 Florida at No. 13 Tennessee
Brent Hubbs, of VolQuest.com, talks about the Vols:
Erik Ainge has been near-perfect through two games. Is he ready to keep it together for four quarters against Florida?
Ainge has been very poised and playing with great confidence - and why not. He has only been knocked down twice in eight quarters of football. This week is different as Florida brings in a very talented front seven and they will try and pressure Ainge. I think his confidence is soaring and he is ready for a challenge like this. Look for David Cutcliffe to be very multiple with protections and with types of throws. He will use the three-step drop, the five- and seven-step drops, as well as play-action and rollouts. Cutcliffe has done a nice job of mixing it up so Ainge is just not sitting back in the pocket waiting for a time-consuming route to develop.

What is the health situation for Arian Foster, and who do you see carrying the rushing load against the Gators?
Foster is still battling the ankle sprain. He has been jogging on the side this week in practice. He is going to try and give it a go, but I am not sure that he is going to be 100 percent. If he is not, look for Montario Hardesty to get the bulk of the work. I think they are going to try and get LaMarcus Coker involved some as well.

Not only was the defense shoddy against Air Force, but two key starters, DT Justin Harrell and CB Inky Johnson were lost for the season because of injuries. Who will start for them and how will the Vols compensate for those losses?
Tennessee is moving Jonathan Hefney back to cornerback from safety. In 2004 during the Vols' run to the SEC Championship game, Hefney was the starting cornerback as a true freshman. Demetrice Morley will start for Hefney at safety. Up front, they are moving Turk McBride down to defensive tackle full time. He has been playing there part time, but now will play there full time. Demonte Bolden also is key for the defensive tackle rotation. He will play a lot more this week.

Marty Cohen, publisher of GatorBait.net , talks about Florida:
Is Chris Leak as comfortable in Urban Meyer's offense as he appears through the first two games?
Leak is definitely more comfortable by virtue of simply being a senior quarterback operating the same system for the second year in a row, the first time he has had that luxury at Florida. But there is no way to make any definite statements about Leak, or any facet of the team, until the Gators play Tennessee. What takes place against Conference USA teams is irrelevant.

Can the Gators get yardage on the ground if they have to?
That remains to be seen. Right now the bulk of the running game is coming from the wide receivers and backup quarterback, which actually isn't all that unusual in Urban Meyer offenses. But Florida is going to have to get some production from its tailbacks. Right now, everything is a question mark when we're talking about this team going on the road against a big-time opponent.

How do you see the matchup playing out between the Gators secondary and the Vols resurgent passing game?
It's not just the Florida secondary. A lot has to do with who controls the line of scrimmage. If Florida can get pressure on Erik Ainge consistently, that will have a huge effect on the Vols' ability to throw it around. If Ainge gets time, the Vols will have success in the air. Plus, another factor is what kind of ground game can the Vols produce. If Tennessee can't run and Florida can really come after Ainge, that will make life difficult for the home team. If Ainge has time, the UF secondary can get exposed.



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