The cancellation of the Florida and LSU contest leaves just five games in the SEC in Week 6. But the first weekend of games featuring conference-only tilts has plenty of great matchups to follow closely.
The week presents several compelling tests for a handful of the SEC’s young quarterbacks, including Jalen Hurts, Jacob Eason and Nick Fitzgerald, as well as the mission for several veteran signal callers wishing to steer clear of the path of monster defensive ends Myles Garrett and Derek Barnett.
We took a look at 10 of the best individual and unit matchups on the slate in Week 6:
RB Rawleigh Williams III vs. Alabama linebackers
Rawleigh Williams III has been one of the bigger surprises this season in the SEC, returning from a broken neck sustained last season to enter Week 6 against Alabama as the conference’s second-leading rusher (111.8 YPG). The sophomore gets a tough assignment against the Crimson Tide, however, owners of the top run defense in the SEC. Alabama’s paltry 68.4 YPG rushing yards allowed comes with a bit of an asterisk. Jeremy Pruitt’s defense hasn’t faced a ground attack that quite rivals that of the Razorbacks (No. 48 nationally) this season. Tide opponents rank an average of No. 88.0 in the nation in terms of rushing offense, with Kentucky’s No. 68-ranked running game being the best they’ve faced.
National rank of Alabama’s opponents by rushing offense:
- No. 68 Kentucky
- No. 83 Ole Miss
- No. 96 Western Kentucky
- No. 98 Southern California
- No. 100 Kent State
QB Trevor Knight, Texas A&M vs. Tennessee secondary
Tennessee doesn’t give up a lot of yards through the air (211.8 YPG, No. 6 in SEC). But the Volunteers have been vulnerable when it comes to giving up touchdowns, yielding 8 tossing scores on the year — ranking them only in front of Mississippi State (9 passing TDs allowed), Georgia (11) and Kentucky (11). Not helping matters is a Vols linebacker corps that will be minus leaders Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Darrin Kirkland Jr. because of injuries. Tennessee has survived since Reeves-Maybin sprained a muscle in his shoulder in Week 3 against Ohio. Then again, Bob Shoop’s defense hasn’t faced the likes of Trevor Knight. The Texas A&M quarterback has revitalized his career in College Station after transferring from Oklahoma to post 1,261 yards and 7 touchdowns against just 3 interceptions to lead the Aggies.
DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M vs. LT Brett Kendrick, Tennessee
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee vs. LT Avery Gennesy, Texas A&M
The Week 6 matchup between No. 9 Tennessee and No. 8 Texas A&M will showcase arguably the two best defensive ends in the SEC, pitting the Aggies’ Garrett against the Vols’ Barnett (albeit not directly). In what figures to be a close contest, all it takes is one big play to sway momentum in a team’s favor. See Barnett’s late sack and forced fumble in the end zone for a touchdown against Eason, Georgia’s freshman quarterback, as proof. Garrett (5.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 4 games) holds a slight edge over Barnett (8.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 5 games) in this contest, if for the sole reason that the Tennessee offensive line also needs to be wary of Daeshon Hall coming off the opposite edge of the junior.
WR Fred Ross, Mississippi State vs. Auburn secondary
The Auburn secondary draws the unenviable task in Week 6 of shutting down Mississippi State wide receiver Fred Ross. The senior has become a favorite target of quarterback Fitzgerald, hauling in an average of 6.3 catches per game, good enough for second best in the SEC. Ross has made those grabs count, converting them into 288 yards and 4 touchdowns in four games. The Tigers, conversely, have only given up 4 touchdowns through the air this season, as well as an average of 202.4 YPG, ranking them behind only Florida, Alabama and South Carolina in the conference. Where the Auburn secondary lacks, however, is in the interception department with a conference-low 2 picks all year. Fitzgerald’s 1 interception toss on the season doesn’t exactly work in the Tigers’ favor, either.
QB Jalen Hurts, Alabama vs. CB Ryan Pulley, Arkansas
Hurts has impressed during his debut season with Alabama, throwing for 989 yards, 7 touchdowns and just 1 interception. Despite the 1 pick, however, the freshman has experienced some issues with accuracy, specifically on deep passes. If he struggles to get the ball downfield against Arkansas in Week 6, the Razorbacks could make him pay. The Hogs secondary is led by cornerback Ryan Pulley, who leads the SEC in passes defended with 8 — tying him with Aarion Penton of Missouri and Kentucky’s Mike Edwards. Passing defense is one of the biggest improvements for the Arkansas defense, and shutting down Hurts and the Crimson Tide passing game would be a nice feather in the cap of a unit that finished in the conference basement for pass defense a year ago.
PR Charles Walker, Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt special teams
Field position will be critical in what is expected to be a tight game between Kentucky and Vanderbilt. The Wildcats’ Charles Walker leads the SEC in punt returns, averaging 18.2 yards per touch and is one of six players in the conference to return a punt for a touchdown this year. The Commodores special teams are particularly stiff against punts. The unit is holding opponents to just 2.3 yards per return through the first five games. This contest likely comes down to which team can utilize their running backs the best — Vanderbilt with Ralph Webb and Stanley “Boom” Williams of Kentucky. Preventing those tailbacks from getting into a place where they can capitalize will be vital.
CB Chris Lammons, South Carolina vs. WR Isaiah McKenzie, Georgia
Chris Lammons has responded after South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp called out his cornerback early in the season for a lack of physical play. The junior heeded the advice, defending 4 passes and hauling in 2 interceptions heading into the Gamecocks’ Week 6 tilt against Georgia. Lammons will square up against Georgia’s No. 1 deep threat in Isaiah McKenzie, the conference’s sixth-best wide receiver in total yards (344). McKenzie, a junior, boasts 4 touchdowns on the season but is looking for his first trip to the end zone since scoring twice in Week 3 against Missouri. It won’t be easy as South Carolina ranks third in the SEC in pass defense.
LT Dan Skipper, Arkansas vs. OLB Tim Williams/K Adam Griffith, Alabama
Dan Skipper should be considered one of Arkansas’ team MVPs this season. The left tackle will have that distinction tested in Week 6 against Alabama, however, when he’ll be tasked with protecting quarterback Austin Allen from DE Dalvin Tomlinson and OLB Tim Williams — and likely Jonathan Allen, depending on where Pruitt lines up his other star defensive lineman. Skipper is a main component along a Razorbacks offensive line that has allowed just 7.0 sacks this season. That’s opposed to Alabama and its 17.0 team sacks. Skipper, the tallest offensive lineman in the nation at 6-foot-10, provides added depth to Arkansas, having also blocked 2 field goals on the season. The most memorable of them preserving the win over Texas-Christian. Crimson Tide kicker Adam Griffith has missed 3 of his 11 attempts this year and would be wise to get his kicks up and out of the reach of the senior left tackle/special teams giant.
Mississippi State defensive line vs. Auburn offensive line
Which Auburn offensive line shows up to play in Week 6 against Mississippi State could very well determine if the Tigers escape Starkville with their fourth win of the season. If it’s the Auburn unit that allowed 3 tackles for losses and 2 sacks against LSU, then then Gus Malzahn’s squad might have a fighting chance. If it’s the Tigers line that coughed up 13 tackles for losses and 4 sacks versus Texas A&M, then Auburn might be in for a long afternoon. Auburn ranks last in the SEC in tackles for losses allowed (40.0) and doesn’t fare much better at preventing sacks (13, No. 12 in the conference). Coming at them will be a Bulldogs front seven that ranks among the best in the SEC, tied with Alabama for second in the conference with 33.0 TFLs. It begins with stopping Mississippi State’s A.J. Jefferson, which is a job for Auburn left tackle Austin Golson and anyone else who dares crossing the path of the SEC’s leader in tackles for losses (9.0).
SS Justin Evans, Texas A&M vs. QB Josh Dobbs and WR Jauan Jennings, Tennessee
If Tennessee’s Week 6 contest against Texas A&M comes down once again to a Hail Mary — as it did, successfully, in Week 5 against Georgia — then the Aggies are going to want SS Justin Evans back in the end zone waiting to bat down any potential 47-yard game-winning lobs. Evans has 6 passes defended this year to lead Texas A&M and rank the senior tied for fifth in the SEC when it comes to thwarting passes.