- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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It's a relatively light week in SEC football with only four intraconference games and one nonconference matchup as teams hit the home stretch of their respective schedules. Here are a few nuggets for readers to chew on in advance of this weekend's SEC action, with an assist from the fine folks at ESPN Stats and Information.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron didn't have a terrific start to this season but he's coming on strong lately, especially when it really matters, like on third downs. Since Oct. 1, McCarron's Total QBR on third downs is 96.3, which is fifth best in the FBS (in his first four games, his third down QBR was 57.2). He has completed 72.7 percent of his third-down passes, which is second only to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in that time span and converted 59 percent on third downs with zero turnovers in the last five games. McCarron converted only 33 percent of the time with two turnovers in the first four games of the year.
The Crimson Tide's opponent, Mississippi State, is trying to knock off a team ranked No. 1 in the polls. The last time the Bulldogs beat a team atop the Associated Press poll? 1980. The opponent? Coincidentally, it was Alabama. The Bulldogs have had only three shots at a top-ranked team since 1980 and lost all three (1998, 2008, 2012). Also, since Dan Mullen has taken over, Mississippi State is 5-19 against SEC West teams (the Bulldogs are 9-4 against the SEC East).
Auburn has more than doubled its average production running the football this season. The Tigers are averaging an SEC-best 320 rushing yards per game, compared to 148.4 last season. They also have 33 touchdowns on the ground, compared with just 16 a year ago. They've also improved yards per carry (6.5 from 4.1) and number of carries gaining 10 or more yards (100 this season, 64 last year).
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has seen his numbers dip some in recent weeks. After averaging 304 passing yards in the first six games of the season, Murray has thrown for just 217.7 yards per game in Georgia's last three outings. His touchdown-to-interception ratio (3-to-2) isn't quite what it was in those first six games (17-to-5) and his opponent-adjusted QBR is down (76.3 from 89.3).
Injuries and a struggling offense have been a significant part of Florida's decline this season, but so has the Gators' run defense. Five games into the year, Florida boasted what was one of the country's best run defenses (at one point, the Gators ranked No. 1 in average yards allowed). In the first five games, Florida allowed 65 yards per game, 2.8 yards per carry and three rushing touchdowns. In the last four, the Gators have allowed 165.5 yards per game, 4.3 yards per carry and nine rushing touchdowns. Not a good formula when one of the SEC's best backs, South Carolina's Mike Davis, is on deck.
Speaking of Davis, he currently leads the SEC in rushing yards per game with an average of 117.6. That's good for 12th in the FBS. Since joining the SEC, only one Gamecock has finished the season with the league's best rushing average, and that was Duce Staley in 1996, who averaged 124 yards.
Ole Miss has its final nonconference game of the year on Saturday, hosting Troy. Traditionally, the Rebels have had great success against teams that currently reside in the Sun Belt, going 28-1-2. The only loss came all the way back in 1915 to Arkansas State. Saturday is the first meeting between Ole Miss and Troy.
Vanderbilt has been pretty successful in the month of November under head coach James Franklin. The Commodores are 7-2 in the month since he took over and currently, they've won six straight dating back to Nov. 26, 2011. Vandy will seek its seventh straight November victory against Kentucky. In the 10 years prior to Franklin's arrival in Nashville, Vanderbilt was 3-32 in November games.
2dAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf
3dEdward Aschoff and Greg Ostendorf