SEC report:

Vandy not retreating vs. Bama

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017
Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason yells at an official during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas State, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason yells at an official during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas State, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Vanderbilt senior defensive lineman Nifae Lealao was excited after the Commodores beat No. 18 Kansas State 14-7 last week. It was Vanderbilt's first victory over a ranked nonconference opponent since 1946, when the Commodores beat No. 20 North Carolina State 7-0.

But Lealao might have gone a little overboard in a postgame TV interview.

"When you come into our house, we show you how to play some SEC ball," Lealao said. "It don't matter where you're from, you're going to know what ball we play.

"Alabama, you're next!"

Maybe not the smartest thing to say with the No. 1 Crimson Tide coming to Vanderbilt Stadium to take on the Commodores on Saturday.

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts didn't seem to take offense to Lealao's comments.

"Theoretically, we are next on their schedule," Hurts told reporters this week. "We have to prepare, and we have to get ready to play a good Vanderbilt team."

Lealao didn't apologize for his comments, but he attempted to explain what he meant in a post to his Twitter account.

"All I meant is that they're next to come to our home," Lealao tweeted. "Take it how you want. We're ready for a heck of a game Saturday. Not many people can say they have the opportunity to play the best program in CFB."

Lealao said he has nothing but respect for Alabama.

"But that doesn't mean we're gonna back down from a challenge," he added.

Samuel out

Opinions vary on when South Carolina receiver and kickoff returner Deebo Samuel may play again, but he for sure will be sidelined when the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville plays the Gamecocks on Oct. 7. Samuel fractured a bone in his left leg above the ankle against Kentucky and underwent surgery Sunday night.

South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp said immediately after the Kentucky game that Samuel is out for the rest of the season, but Samuel quickly tweeted he'll be back in five to six weeks.

Muschamp said the surgery went well, but he doesn't want to speculate on when Samuel may be ready to play.

"We'll see what happens," Muschamp said. "But right now, he will be out for an extended period of time."

Samuel has scored six touchdowns this season: three receiving, two on kickoff returns and one rushing.

"It's not one person who steps in and accomplishes those things," Muschamp said of replacing Samuel. "It's multiple guys, and we certainly have guys that we have confidence in and have the ability to be very effective in what we are trying to do.

"Man down, man up. It's an unfortunate situation for [Samuel], but one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity."

Streak talk

Florida is playing at Kentucky on Saturday, which means this week has been filled with talk about the Gators' winning streak against the Wildcats.

That's what happens when one SEC team beats another 30 consecutive times. Kentucky last beat Florida 10-3 on Nov. 15, 1986.

Mark Stoops is only 0-4 against Florida as Kentucky's coach, but he understands the weight of the streak.

"It's not like you can hide it," Stoops said. "They know what's going on. But I have great confidence in our team that it won't affect us at all."

Stoops said he doesn't use the possibility of ending the streak to pump up his players.

"Honestly, I haven't addressed that before," he said. "It's never been my approach. These guys haven't been here for 30 years. We'll see. I'll go with my gut on how much we'll talk about that or if at all."

Florida Coach Jim McElwain, 2-0 against Kentucky, said he'll leave talking about the streak to the media.

"Every year it's different," McElwain said. "You've got two different teams playing, so right now it's 0-0."

Gators sophomore receiver Freddie Swain has an idea about how the Wildcats must be feeling as they prepare to play Florida.

"This is probably like their Super Bowl," Swain said. "If I lost to a team that long, I mean, I'd try to win, too. That would be a big win."

Stoops said he understands what ending the losing streak would mean to Kentucky's alumni and fans.

"I care about our fan base. I do care about the history," he said. "I want to make our people happy and supportive of our team."

Florida's 30-game winning streak against Kentucky is the fourth longest behind Notre Dame's 43 games over Navy (1964-2006), Nebraska's 36 games over Kansas (1969-2004) and Oklahoma's 32 over Kansas State (1937-1968).

Team meeting

The Missouri Tigers felt the need to hold a players-only meeting Monday after losing at home to South Carolina 31-13 and Purdue 35-3 the previous two games.

Senior receiver J'Mon Moore told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the meeting included some venting, aggravation and a sense of urgency.

"Some emotions were flaring all over the place," Moore said. "It was something we definitely needed."

How the Tigers -- who play No. 15 Auburn at home Saturday night -- have competed in practice and games came up during the meeting.

"It hasn't been good enough," senior tight end Jason Reese told the Post-Dispatch.

Monday was the players' designated day off under NCAA rules, and Missouri Coach Barry Odom said the staff wasn't involved in the meeting.

"I think we've got strong leadership within this team, and they're trying to take it a step further and do everything they can to get us ready to go play," Odom said.

Junior linebacker Terez Hall said a lack of energy has hurt Missouri.

"You either want to play or you don't want to play," Hall said. "It's all about putting the players who want to be out on the field out there. They've got to want to go out there and play.

"The energy part will come when you're out there making plays. You've got to want to do these things."

Odom said the Tigers had their best practice of the season Tuesday, so presumably the meeting had a positive impact.

"The thing with that is it's great and it's a start," Odom said. "Let's do it again today."

Shoop: 'I made the call'

Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop didn't wait for the question.

When he met with the media Tuesday, Shoop opened by talking in detail about Florida's 63-yard touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland on the game's final play that lifted the Gators to a 26-20 victory over the Vols.

Shoop began with a defense of Tennessee Coach Butch Jones.

"First, I want to say this, and this is from my heart: I think some of the criticism of Coach Jones is unfair," Shoop said. "I made the call on the last play."

Shoop said the coaching staff was convinced Florida would go for an underneath pass to set up a field-goal attempt. He said it was inaccurate to call Franks' long pass a "Hail Mary!" play, and that Tennessee defended well in the respect that the Vols covered the first options.

"We took away the play that they ran, which is the irony of the whole thing," Shoop said.

When Franks scrambled away from Tennessee's pass rush, he was able to set his feet and pass to Cleveland, who got behind the Vols' secondary when the play was extended.

"The player got behind our player, and it was a disastrous ending," Shoop said.

Vandy defense

The nation's No. 1 scoring and total defense will be on the field when Alabama plays at Vanderbilt on Saturday, but it's the Commodores atop those national statistically categories, not the Crimson Tide.

Vanderbilt has held opponents to an average of 4.3 points and 198.3 yards.

"I think this is all the way around an outstanding defensive team," Alabama Coach Nick Saban said. "I think it starts up front with them. They're very aggressive. They play a good scheme. Their linebackers are very active and quick to jump over.

"This will be a real challenge for our offensive line. They do a lot of things. They've got pretty good quickness. They run well. This is a very athletic defensive team. They know their scheme well and they don't make very many mental errors."

Alabama ranks 16th in scoring defense (13.3 points) and 37th in total defense (304.7 yards).

Grantham returns

Mississippi State defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will make his first appearance at Sanford Stadium on Saturday since holding the same position at Georgia from 2010-2013.

Grantham, Louisville's coordinator the previous three seasons, said facing Georgia in Athens doesn't hold special significance for him.

"It's another SEC game for us," Grantham said. "It's a road game. It's our second conference game, which is the most important thing.

"I just want to make sure we prepare the right way and go out and play a talented Georgia team."

This won't be the first time Grantham has faced Georgia. He was with Louisville in 2014 when the Bulldogs beat the Cardinals 37-14 in the Belk Bowl.

Two-minute drill

• Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason (left knee sprain) has returned to practice on a limited basis this week, but he isn't expected to play against Mississippi State. True freshman Jake Fromm will make his third start for the Bulldogs.

• Mississippi State's 37-7 victory over No. 11 LSU was the Bulldogs' largest margin over a ranked team since Oct. 17, 1942, when they beat No. 12 Vanderbilt 33-0.

• LSU Coach Ed Orgeron said running back Derrius Guice is "very questionable" for Saturday's game against Syracuse because of a left knee injury.

• Auburn sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham completed a school-record 18 consecutive passes against Mercer, breaking the record of 16 in a row by Stan White against New Mexico State in 1993.

• Florida Coach Jim McElwain said senior cornerback Duke Dawson is questionable to play against Kentucky because of a head injury.

SEC TOP TO BOTTOM

Rank(prev);record;comment

1(1);Alabama;3-0;Hasn't lost to Vanderbilt in Nashville since 1969

2(3);Georgia;3-0;Showdown between the hedges with those other Bulldogs

3(10);Mississippi State;3-0;Routing LSU has Bulldogs looking like SEC contenders

4(4);Auburn;2-1;Gus still trying to get offense jump-started

5(7);Florida;1-1;Gators continue to own Tennessee in The Swamp

6(8);Vanderbilt;3-0;Commodores get rare spot on CBS game against Bama

7(5);Tennessee;2-1;Vols should hammer UMass as warm-up for Georgia

8(2);LSU;2-1;Tigers looking for answers after 30-point loss at Starkville

9(12);Kentucky;3-0;Four consecutive victories over South Carolina

10(6);South Carolina;2-1;Skip Holtz returns to Williams-Brice to face Gamecocks

11(9);Arkansas;1-1;Hoping to make Jerry Jones a proud alum in his house

12(11);Texas A&M;2-1;Sumlin 5-0 against the Razorbacks as Aggies' coach

13(13);Ole Miss;2-1;Open date to get ready for road trip to Alabama

14(14);Missouri;1-2;Big home underdog to Auburn after pounding by Purdue

PLAYER TO WATCH

Mississippi State junior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, a native of Richmond, Ga., will be back in his home state Saturday night to lead the Bulldogs against Georgia in Athens.

Fitzgerald was the SEC Offensive Player of the Week after passing for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns and rushing for 88 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Bulldogs' 37-7 victory over LSU. He's hoping to help the Bulldogs land another upset against Georgia.

"Hopefully, he's OK to handle it," Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen said about Fitzgerald feeling pressure playing back home. "He better get his emotions in check because we're playing a very athletic defense. Watching the film will straighten out those emotions pretty quickly."

Fitzgerald has completed 43 of 70 passes for 543 yards and 7 touchdowns with 1 interception and rushed 31 times for 240 yards -- a 7.7-yard average per carry -- and 5 touchdowns.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Mississippi State at Georgia

WHEN 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)

WHERE Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.

RECORDS Georgia 3-0, Mississippi State 3-0

RANKINGS Georgia No. 11 in AP Poll, Mississippi State No. 17

LINE Georgia favored by 4½ points

What in August looked to be a lopsided game for Georgia at home now has the makings of being one of the top SEC games of the season.

Mississippi State was picked to finish near the bottom of the SEC West, but the Bulldogs showed they've been underrated with a 37-7 pounding of LSU last week.

Now the Bulldogs are looking to win at Georgia for the first time since 1956, when Mississippi State beat those other Bulldogs 19-7. Mississippi State has lost 10 consecutive games in Athens since then.

Mississippi State has the SEC's top rushing offense and ranks 11th nationally, averaging 297.7 yards per game. Georgia is fifth nationally in run defense, holding opponents to an average of 71.0 yards. Something has to give between the hedges Saturday night.

BY THE NUMBERS

86.5 -- Completion percentage for Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who was 32-of-37 passing against Mercer.

1911 -- The last season in which Kentucky, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt all started 3-0.

18 -- Consecutive victories for Alabama over Vanderbilt since the Commodores beat the Crimson Tide 30-21 in 1984 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

OVERHEARD

"Reality smacked us in the face."

-- Missouri running back Damarea Crockett (Little Rock Christian) after Purdue beat the Tigers 35-3.

"I would have liked to see that one go to overtime. I think that would have been a hell of a game."

-- Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop on Florida beating the Vols 26-20 on a touchdown pass on the final play.

"If they put us in the Top 25, great. If they don't put us in the Top 25, we'll continue playing good football."

-- Vanderbilt Coach Derek Mason after his team beat No. 18 Kansas State 14-7 to stay unbeaten. The Commodores remain unranked.

"One of the great things about the SEC, unlike just about every other conference, is usually when you get a big-time win over a top-15 team, you load up and play a team ranked even higher the next week."

-- Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen on playing at Georgia after beating LSU.

Sports on 09/21/2017

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