No. 21 Texas A&M, No. 7 Alabama brace for big game
Here are some of the things to watch in Week 8 of the Southeastern Conference season:
GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 7 Alabama: Both of these teams need a big victory if they want to stay in serious contention for the SEC Western Division title. Texas A&M is trying to get its league-leading offense back to form after a disappointing 35-20 home loss to Mississippi last weekend. Alabama edged Arkansas 14-13 last weekend, but hasn’t looked like the same program that has been a national championship contender for years.
MATCHUP OF THE WEEK: Florida’s offensive line vs. Missouri’s pass rush: Florida has allowed only five sacks all season. The only SEC team that has given up fewer sacks is Arkansas. Florida’s pass protection will face a tough test Saturday against Missouri, which features two of the SEC’s top pass rushers in Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Ray has seven sacks this season to rank second in the SEC. Golden has produced four sacks, tied for fifth-most in the conference. Ray leads the SEC with 12 1/2 tackles for loss, while Golden has eight to rank third in the league.
NUMBERS GAME: Tennessee already has allowed 23 sacks, which equals the combined total of sacks the Volunteers gave up in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Tennessee was the only Football Bowl Subdivision program that had to replace all five of its starting offensive linemen from last season. A look at depth charts across the country reveals that Tennessee, Southern California, BYU, Florida Atlantic and UTEP are the only Football Bowl Subdivision teams regularly starting two true freshmen on the offensive line. The Vols have another tough test on Saturday when they face No. 3 Mississippi’s defense, which is giving up a league-low 11.8 points per game.
LONG SHOT: LSU is a 9 1/2-point favorite over Kentucky at home, but the Tigers have won just two of their past four games and barely slipped past Florida 30-27 last weekend. Kentucky, on the other hand, looks like one of the up-and-coming programs in the SEC. The Wildcats have a 5-1 record so far this season, including a 2-1 mark in the league. Their only setback was an overtime road loss to Florida on Sept. 13.
IMPACT PERFORMER: Georgia running back Nick Chubb stepped in for suspended running back Todd Gurley and rushed for 143 yards on 38 carries last week in a 34-0 shutout of Missouri. Now the freshman may need to show whether he can handle a heavy workload in consecutive weeks. Even though Gurley has returned to practice, he hasn’t been cleared to play. Chubb likely will be getting plenty of carries again as long as Gurley is sidelined.
AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, and David Brandt in Jackson, Mississippi contributed to this story.