Just because there are only six games in the SEC in Week 7 doesn’t mean the slate is bereft of great individual matchups. Several of the conference’s heavyweights will lock horns on Saturday including the likes of elite quarterbacks Josh Dobbs versus Alabama and Chad Kelly against Arkansas, as well as the men tasked with protecting them.
The week also brings us a look at two of the nation’s best running backs when Mississippi State travels to Brigham Young and LSU plays host to Southern Mississippi.
A look at 10 of the biggest individual matchups taking place during Week 7 in the SEC.
C Andy Dodd, LSU vs. NT Dylan Bradley, Southern Mississippi
Congratulations on your first start at center for LSU, Andy Dodd. Now all you have to do is keep Southern Miss’ Bradley from adding to his 10.0 tackles for loss on the year. Bradley enters the Week 7 contest between the Tigers and Golden Eagles with the fifth-most drops behind the line of scrimmage in the nation, tied with Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers and Duke Ejiofor of Wake Forest. Of those tackles for loss, half of them are sacks. Dodd gets the nod with regular starter Ethan Pocic sliding over to right tackle for the injured Toby Weathersby, who continues to nurse an ailing ankle. Dodd entered the season with 5 knockdown blocks in eight career games at the center and guard positions.
TE Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas vs. NB Tony Conner, Ole Miss
Sprinkle has emerged as one of the favorite targets of both Brandon Allen and his brother Austin Allen, the latter of whom pilots Arkansas in Week 7 against Ole Miss in an enormous SEC West battle. Sprinkle is tied with his Rebels peer Evan Engram for the SEC lead among tight ends with 4 touchdowns, to go along with 194 yards on 18 receptions — meaning he scores every 4.5 catches. He’ll be the responsibility of the Ole Miss secondary and outside linebackers, particularly nickelback Tony Conner. The senior brings experience to the Rebels secondary that has allowed an SEC-low 2 touchdowns this season. Conner has 11 career tackles against Arkansas, but was victimized routinely in last year’s meeting by older brother Brandon in the Hogs’ overtime win.
RB Jamaal Williams, BYU vs. Mississippi State run defense
The Mississippi State run defense can play the ultimate party pooper in Week 7. But to do so, they have to hold Williams — one of Brigham Young’s most affable and greatest players ever — to less than 63 yards on the ground. That’s the number the running back needs to tie Harvey Unga atop the Cougars’ all-time rushing leaderboard. It’s a task easier said than accomplished, given Williams’ 144.3 YPG average this season. The Bulldogs aren’t exactly a sieve when it comes to preventing the run, allowing 134.2 YPG to opponents, good enough for fifth-best in the SEC. But Dan Mullen’s squad has been susceptible to big backs, including Leonard Fournette (147 yards) and Kamryn Pettway (169 yards).
DE Jabari Zuniga, Florida vs. RT Paul Adams, Missouri
With Jordan Sherit (out, knee) and Bryan Cox Jr. (probable, ankle) nursing injuries, it would appear that Florida could struggle at defensive end against Missouri in Week 7. That is, if the Gators didn’t have one of the SEC’s most fearsome players coming off the edge in a freshman who’s yet to get a starting nod this season. Zuniga is already the quickest Florida freshman to 5.0 sacks since Huey Richardson needed a full slate of games in 1987 to reach that mark. With 2.0 more sacks, Zuniga will surpass 2015 team leaders Alex McCalister and Jonathan Bullard, who each had 6.5. Adams is the man tasked with preventing Zuniga from obliterating Missouri quarterback Drew Lock, the conference’s leading passer (335.0 YPG). The Tigers offensive line has allowed a conference-low 3.0 sacks this season.
RB Ito Smith, Southern Mississippi vs. LSU run defense
After four 100-yard efforts to begin the season, Smith’s rushing total has dipped below the century mark in each of the last two weeks (77 yards vs. Rice; 94 yards vs. Texas-San Antonio). But the Southern Mississippi running back — owner of a No. 10 nationally 711 yards and 6 TDs — remains a dangerous option. With a thumb injury threatening quarterback Nick Mullens’ status for Week 7’s matchup with LSU, Smith will become an even more vital option. LSU is stingy against the run. The Tigers have held opponent to just 108.2 YPG through the first five games. More importantly, LSU has yielded just 2 rushing touchdowns all year — and none since Week 3 against Mississippi State.
CB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama vs. QB Josh Dobbs, Tennessee
Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick seeks an encore performance of his Week 6 effort in which he picked off Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen 3 times for a total of 114 return yards. The Crimson Tide secondary ranks in the middle of the pack in the SEC in yards allowed through the air (223.3 per game), but that doesn’t mean it’s not opportunistic and capitalistic. The Tide have 3 pick-six touchdowns on the year, including Fitzpatrick’s 100-yarder last week. They’ll look to make Tennessee’s Dobbs their fourth victim in Week 7. The senior signal caller is having a special year that seemingly transcends his 1,433 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. But he is vulnerable. Despite the gaudy numbers and improbable comebacks, Dobbs leads the SEC in a dubious category: interceptions (8).
WR Antonio Callaway, Florida vs. CB Aarion Penton, Missouri
Florida gets quarterback Luke Del Rio back under center in Week 7, which is excellent news for the Gators offense, especially for the talented Callaway. The sophomore is averaging 92.8 YPG, best among SEC wide receivers — and second behind Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram (95.8 YPG) for the conference lead. Callaway will likely be blanketed heavily by Penton when the Tigers travel to The Swamp. Penton has emerged as a leader in the Mizzou secondary, defending 8 passes this season, tying him for tops in the conference with 1.90 per game.
QB Chad Kelly, Ole Miss vs. CB Ryan Pulley and S Santos Ramirez, Arkansas
What a difference a year and a new coordinator makes. Arkansas has turned around its secondary in 2016 under the tutelage of new coordinator Paul Rhoads. The former Iowa State head coach has trimmed the Razorbacks’ SEC-worst 275.2 YPG average in 2015 down to 218.0 heading into the Hogs’ Week 7 tilt with Ole Miss. Kelly torched that defense last year for 368 yards and 3 touchdowns, even if it took some 4th-and-25 magic to bail out Arkansas in overtime. Kelly’s job becomes more difficult this time around on The Hill, going up against a Razorbacks’ secondary led by Pulley and Ramirez. The duo is leading a unit that allows just a 20 percent success rate against the deep ball, according to Pro Football Focus.
RB Nick Chubb, Georgia vs. ILB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
Cunningham is quietly cobbling together another terrific year and currently is the SEC’s leader in tackles for loss (10.5). Only Ejuan Price of Pittsburgh (12.5 TFL), Haason Reddick of Temple (12.0) and Illinois’ Carroll Phillips (11.0) have more nationally. Cunningham leads a brick wall designed to keep Georgia’s running game in check in Week 7 when the two programs meet between the hedges in Athens. Particularly Chubb, who appears to have recovered from an ankle injury that’s slowed him over the course of the last month. The junior erupted for 121 yards last week, his first triple-digit performance since rushing for 222 yards in the season opener versus North Carolina. If Vanderbilt wants any chance of upending the Bulldogs, it begins with slowing Chubb and his backfield mates Sony Michel and Brian Herrien.
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee vs. LT Cam Robinson, Alabama
In what could very well be a rivalry that bleeds into the NFL for years to come, Cam Robinson will throw his 6-foot-6, 310-pound frame in front of the vicious path of Barnett — owner of 15 career sacks. Barnett is living up to his menacing reputation in 2016 with 9.5 tackles for loss (second in the SEC) and 5.0 sacks. Robinson got off to a slow start, shaking off offseason troubles and the continuing reshuffling of the Alabama offensive line. But the hulking junior appears to be finding his old self, which projects him as a high draft pick when he decides to leave Tuscaloosa. Alabama has allowed 10 sacks this season, but is coming off a zero-sack performance against Arkansas last week.