College football is very much a passing game these days. Several key matchups this week revolve around shutting down the some of the better quarterbacks the SEC has to offer.
A look at 10 of the biggest individual matchups taking place during Week 8 in the SEC:
CB Carlton Davis, Auburn vs. WR Jared Cornelius or WR Keon Hatcher, Arkansas
Speedy Noil (Texas A&M), Travin Dural (LSU) and Fred Ross (Mississippi State) all tried. And all failed when it came to burning Auburn cornerback Carlton Davis, neither of whom hauled in more than 59 yards against the Tigers sophomore. This week it’s the Arkansas wide receiving corps led by Jared Cornelius and Keon Hatcher looking to test Davis. Razorbacks quarterback Austin Allen leads the SEC in passing with 1,861 yards, thanks in large part to Cornelius, who tops all conference pass-catchers with an average of 20.4 YPC. Add the junior’s 4 touchdowns to Hatcher’s 5 scoring grabs and the Hogs have the best scoring duo in the SEC.
QB Brent Stockstill, Middle Tennessee State vs. Missouri secondary
Missouri’s homecoming might not be so jovial if the Tigers can’t contain Brent Stockstill. The Middle Tennessee State quarterback ranks No. 6 in the country in passing, averaging 348.5 YPG, to go along with 18 touchdowns. The sophomore has had success against the SEC already this season, throwing for 399 yards and 3 touchdowns against Vanderbilt in Week 2. The saving grace for Mizzou is that the Commodores were able to soundly defeat Stockstill and the Blue Raiders, 47-24. Missouri surrenders a middling 232.7 YPG via the air, but has limited opponent to just 5 passing touchdowns entering the Week 8 contest.
LB Da’Sean Downey, Massachusetts vs. South Carolina offensive line
Which A.J. Turner will show up for South Carolina? The Gamecocks running back who rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown against Texas A&M or the freshman who posted just 30 yards on the ground a week later against Georgia despite one more carry than he had against the Aggies? That might depend on South Carolina’s ability to contain Da’Sean Downey. The Massachusetts outside linebacker is adroit at coming off the end or dropping back in coverage en route to 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks — tied for second with Army’s Andrew King among all Independents — to lead the Minutemen defense. If Will Muschamp’s offensive line can slow Downey, they still must account for fellow UMass linebacker Steve Casali, who leads all Independents in tackles (63).
CB Ezra Robinson, Tennessee State vs. WR Kalija Lipscomb, Vanderbilt
Kalija Lipscomb might lead Vanderbilt in receiving, but the freshman is still looking for a breakout game in an anemic Commodores passing game. Lipscomb likely lines up against Ezra Robinson in Week 8 when Vanderbilt plays host to Tennessee State. The former Michigan State cornerback is tied with Tennessee-Martin’s Tae Martin for tops in the Ohio Valley Conference with 2 interceptions. Robinson’s 11 passes defended on the year would rank him second in the nation among Power 5 conferences. Lipscomb is averaging 32.4 YPG and hasn’t scored since Week 3 versus Georgia Tech. On the surface, a game against Tennessee State could be what cures the Commodores passing woes, but Robinson could create headaches for Lipscomb and quarterback Kyle Shurmur.
RB Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M vs. Alabama run defense
The SEC’s top running back goes up against the conference’s No. 1 rush defense in Week 8 when Texas A&M freshman Trayveon Williams looks to improve upon his 117.3 YPG versus an Alabama unit that surrenders just 68.8 YPG. The Tide have relented just 3 touchdowns all season long on the ground. On top of that, Nick Saban’s defense has only given up more than 100 rushing yards once all season. To clarify, that’s not a 100-yard rusher, that’s 100 yards combined as a team when Ole Miss managed 101 yards in Week 3. Williams has emerged as the nation’s leading rushing freshman, with four 100-yard performances (and one 217-yard effort) in his last five games. That one contest where he failed to hit the century mark saw him finish with 98 yards against South Carolina.
QB Jalen Hurts, Alabama vs. SS Justin Evans and LCB Priest Willis, Texas A&M
Jalen Hurts is quickly making a name for himself under center for Alabama, particularly with big wins over Tennessee and Arkansas. The Crimson Tide freshman (1,385 yards, 9 TDs, 3 INT) gets one of his toughest challenges of the year, however, in Week 8 versus a Texas A&M secondary that gives up more yards than any other in the SEC (278.2 YPG, 30.2 more than the next closest team Kentucky). You read that correctly. That stat is misleading when you consider that, despite the high yardage, the Aggies have only yielded 5 touchdowns this season, to go along with 7 interceptions. Texas A&M’s defensive backs rank No. 2 in the conference in passes defended, led by Justin Evans (9 passed defended) and Priest Willis (8) to rank in the top five. Add Nick Harvey (6 passes defended), Armani Watts (5) and Shaan Washington (5) to the equation and Hurts could be looking at a tough afternoon via the air.
OLB Arden Key, LSU vs. LT Rod Taylor, Ole Miss
Arden Key is feeling confident heading into LSU’s Week 8 tilt against Ole Miss, particularly with former Rebels left tackle Laremy Tunsil off to the NFL. So much so, the Tigers outside linebacker believes he can pad his SEC-leading 7.0 sacks with 3 more against Tunsil’s replacement Rod Taylor. The junior Taylor will team up with freshman Greg Little along an Ole Miss line that’s coughed up the second-fewest tackles for loss (21) in the SEC.
LB Jordan Jones, Kentucky vs. QB Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
It’s no longer a secret that Nick Fitzgerald enjoys running the ball. The Mississippi State quarterback leads the Bulldogs with 431 yards on the ground — 223 more than tailback Brandon Holloway. If the sophomore quarterback takes off running in Week 8 against Kentucky, however, he might be met with some resistance. Namely, Wildcats linebacker Jordan Jones, the SEC’s leader in solo tackles (41). Kentucky can be susceptible against the run at times (189.0 YPG, 10 TDs), but can make life tough for the Mississippi State rushing attack — especially with the continued maturity of outside linebackers Denzil Ware and Josh Allen assisting Jones.
QB Sean White, Auburn vs. Arkansas secondary
Auburn’s running game gets most of the credit for the No. 21 Tigers’ 4-2 (2-1 SEC) record. But Sean White has quietly righted Auburn’s maligned quarterback situation this year. The sophomore is the most accurate passer in the SEC (69.7 percent), throwing the fewest interceptions (2) among signal callers who have started six games. If we’re mentioning turnarounds from last season, then the Arkansas secondary bears mention. The unit that finished last in the conference in yards per game is one of six teams in the SEC that have more interceptions than touchdowns allowed. Auburn would be wise to rely on its run game against an Arkansas front seven that’s allowed more touchdowns than any other squad in the conference.
TE Evan Engram, Ole Miss vs. CB Tre’Davious White and SS Jamal Adams, LSU
Evan Engram has proven to be too much to handle for most defense this season. The tight end leads the SEC in receiving with 590 yards and 5 touchdowns. LSU will look to slow the Ole Miss senior with a tandem of CB Tre’Davious White in base and nickel packages and SS Jamal Adams on passing downs. The Tigers have given up only 3 touchdowns on the year and only 6.3 yards-per-attempt. Whoever wins this battle should put themselves in a great position to pull off the much-needed win.