Now that Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight and Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly are out for the year with injuries, a new set of quarterbacks will be asked to take over the mantle among the best quarterbacks in the SEC.
Signal callers have a tough task ahead of them in Week 11, however. If the likes of Austin Allen, Luke Del Rio and Nick Fitzgerald can’t step up their games, then Arkansas, Florida and Mississippi State could be in for a long game.
We take a look at some of the best individual matchups throughout the SEC in Week 11.
RB Kerryon Johnson, Auburn vs. Georgia run defense
There are conflicting reports coming out of Auburn in regards to the health of running back Kamryn Pettway, the SEC’s leading rusher, who injured his leg late in the Tigers win over Vanderbilt in Week 10. If the SEC’s leading rusher is a no-go or limited, that means the duty to pick up the slack in Week 11 against Georgia will fall upon Kerry Johnson. Which should come as no sense of relief for the Bulldogs. Johnson is equal parts dangerous (616 yards, 77.0 YPG) and perhaps even more versatile. In fact, Johnson’s 9 touchdowns are two more than Pettway on the year — and would likely be a 1,000 yard rusher had his own injury not cost him time and opened the door for Pettway, says Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. Georgia is stingy against the run and could make life difficult for whomever is barreling out of Auburn backfield, holding opponents to 118.2 YPG, third-best in the SEC.
LB Zach Cunningham vs. Missouri offensive line
Missouri leads the SEC when it comes to preventing tackles-for-loss. But the Tigers haven’t faced Zach Cunningham, yet. Once the Vanderbilt linebacker gets his shot, they may no longer hold the distinction. Of course, that’s hyperbole, especially when you consider that Mizzou has allowed 9 fewer tackles-for-loss than any other conference opponent. In fact, the unit leads the nation with just 24 TFL allowed on the year…8 fewer than the next closest team in Louisiana Tech. Mizzou hasn’t yet faced the likes of Cunningham, owner of 13.5 TFL, second most in the SEC. The best team that the Tigers have faced for dropping ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage is LSU, which checks in at No. 7 in the conference when it comes to the most tackles-for-loss.
QB Austin Allen, Arkansas vs. LSU secondary
Austin Allen proved he can handle a stiff secondary, passing for 243 yards and a touchdown in Week 10 against Florida, the SEC’s top passing defense. But can the Arkansas quarterback do it two weeks in a row against one of the conference’s better units in LSU? Allen is tied for the SEC lead in touchdowns with 19, but faces a Tigers corps of defensive backs that have allowed a paltry 4 touchdowns to be scored on them all year, best in the nation ahead of Clemson, Georgia State and Wisconsin (5 TDs allowed).
QB Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State vs. Alabama run defense
We find out in Week 11 what happens when the SEC’s best scrambling quarterback goes up against the conference’s top run defense. Nick Fitzgerald has been a pleasant surprise for Mississippi State, rushing for 839 yards and 8 touchdowns as Dak Prescott’s replacement. But his streak of four-consecutive 100-plus yard games is in serious jeopardy against Alabama. No one runs on the Crimson Tide, just ask Leonard Fournette and his 35 yards last week. Alabama gives up just 66.0 YPG and is on pace to lead the nation in that category two years in a row.
QB Jake Bentley, South Carolina vs. CBs Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson, Florida
Jake Bentley has impressed since taking over as South Carolina’s starting quarterback. Through his first three games, the freshman has thrown for 622 yards (207.3 YPG) and 6 touchdowns — all Gamecock wins. Those are modest numbers that are made more impressive by his lack of an interception toss. Bentley squares up against Florida, however, in Week 11. That Gators have picked off 11 passes on the year, led by their bookend cornerbacks Quincy Wilson (3 picks) and Teez Tabor, who is tied for the SEC lead with 4 interceptions.
TE Evan Engram, Ole Miss vs. NB Donovan Wilson, Texas A&M
Was Evan Engram a product of Chad Kelly’s success or vice versa? We find out in Week 11 when the tight goes up against Texas A&M without his quarterback Kelly, who is sidelined for the rest of the year with an injury. Engram leads the nation in receiving with 775 yards and 7 touchdowns. He might be even more vital to the Ole Miss offense without Kelly, as freshman Jason Pellerin will likely need all the assistance he can get as the Rebels’ new signal caller. Engram will get his most resistance against an Aggie secondary — which has surrendered 7 touchdowns in their last four games after allowing just three in their first five contests — from nickel back Donovan Wilson, owner of 41 tackles on the year.
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee vs. LT Cole Mosier, Kentucky
How’s that sprained ankle you sustained in Week 10 against Georgia, Cole Mosier? Let’s hope it’s OK. After all, it’s going to get tested frequently when Derek Barnett starts barreling toward you with a frequency you haven’t witnessed yet this year. The Kentucky left tackle gets the unenviable task of blocking Barnett, the SEC’s leading in both sacks (9.5) and tackles-for-loss (14.5) when the Wildcats travel to Knoxville to face Tennessee.
PR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M vs. Ole Miss special teams
Up next in the just-try-and-stop Christian Kirk game is Ole Miss. The Texas A&M punt return man has taken back punts for touchdowns in each of the last two games for three scores. The sophomore’s 264 return yards are the most in the nation. The Rebels allow the most punt return yards in the SEC, yielding close to 20 yards per game. In a game with both Texas A&M’s and Ole Miss’ star quarterback sidelined with injuries, field position will be critical and stopping (or at least slowing) Kirk will be paramount.
LB Kendall Beckwith, LSU vs. Arkansas offensive line
The Arkansas offensive line has regressed in 2016 after being one of the nation’s top units last year. That’s bad news for QB Austin Allen and RB Rawleigh Williams III when LSU and Kendall Beckwith arrive on the Hill for their Week 11 tilt against the Razorbacks. The senior trails only Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham for tackles on the year with 85.0 take downs, 6.0 which have gone for a loss of yardage. Only Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina have coughed up more tackles-for-loss than Arkansas, who could be in for a long evening.
QB Luke Del Rio, Florida vs. South Carolina secondary
The emergence of South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley has been a refreshing story in Columbia. But the Gamecocks three-straight wins have a lot to do with the team’s ability to limit opposing passers. South Carolina owns the SEC’s third-best passing defense and seems to come up with big interceptions late in games when the Gamecocks need them the most. Just ask Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs. Luke Del Rio gets a shot against that unit, when Florida plays host to South Carolina in Week 11. The Florida signal caller has only played in 6 games this year, but only Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald and the aforementioned Dobbs have tossed more completion to opponents than De Rio’s 8 interceptions.