Thrill of Victory

Can Titans, Vandy, get road wins?

The Titans try to get back to winning ways after taking a beating at Houston last week, and Vandy tries to do the same after getting trounced at Georgia two weeks ago. Here’s a look at those games and all the weekend’s Southeastern Conference action as well.

Titans travel to resurgent Minnesota
So we knew at the start of the year that it would be a tough first six weeks for the Titans, but we thought there would be a bit of a breather in Week 5 against the Vikings. Whoops! Minnesota is now 3-1 after impressive back-to-back victories against San Francisco (home) and Detroit (away).

The surprise is that the Vikings have a legitimate offense; not only is running back Adrian Peterson looking healthy (even if is production is a bit down), but second-year quarterback Christian Ponder is developing into a quality NFL signal-caller, too. Ponder won’t be asked to win games on his own, but with four touchdowns against no interceptions, that’ll leave coach Leslie Frazier quite pleased. Throw in a breakout year from receiver Percy Harvin, who’s tied for third in the NFL in catches, and suddenly the Vikings can scare people a bit when they’re playing well.

Defensively, the Vikings are always tough to run against, and their pass rush is tremendous. Protecting Matt Hasselbeck could be as difficult for the Titans as could as opening holes for Chris Johnson, so it could be a game for slot receiver Kendall Wright to shine.

As much as I hate it, I’m just not that optimistic about this week. The Titans haven’t scored more than 14 points but once, and haven’t much stopped anybody offensively. I’d like to see some results before I get the least bit optimistic. Prediction: Vikings 24, Titans 13

Vandy looks for first SEC win at Missouri
The Commodores have had plenty of time to lick their wounds from the 48-3 whipping they got at Georgia two weekends ago. So, here’s the question everyone wants to know: is Vandy more like the team that got embarrassed at Georgia, or the one that darn-near upset No. 6 South Carolina in Week 1? We might have a better idea this week, but it looks like another tough matchup for VU.

The Tigers’ front seven has played surprisingly well in both the run and on pass-rushing, thanks to superstar defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. VU should be able to get some yards through the air, but that’s only if they’ve got time – and that is a big “if,” as poorly as its offensive line has played. Meanwhile, Missouri quarterback James Franklin (yes, he has the same name as the Vandy coach) hasn’t performed up to expectations, but he’s due if Missouri can protect him as well. That could also be an issue since the Tigers have been battered and bruised along the line all season.

Vandy’s got a chance, but I don’t see a clear edge in the matchup for the Commodores, so I’m going with the Tigers to get their first-ever SEC win as a part of the conference. Prediction: Missouri 27, Vanderbilt 17

Elsewhere around the SEC…
LSU at Florida: Earlier in the week, I ranked Florida third and LSU, fifth, in an SEC power poll I did at draftnasty.com. If I told you I was the least-bit comfortable with either of those ratings, I’d be lying. My fear is that I’ve made too much of the Gators’ big win over Tennessee, and put too much weight on back-to-back subpar performances by the Tigers against lesser teams (LSU usually comes to play when it counts).

I guess those ratings come down to a few things: LSU has gotten pretty well beaten-up all over the field so far and is still young in the secondary, and the Gators are out-playing LSU at quarterback right now. This game is also in Gainesville. I don’t feel great about this pick, but I’m sticking with my guns and taking the Gators. Prediction: Florida 20, LSU 17

Georgia at South Carolina: In that same power poll, I picked Georgia second and the Gamecocks, fourth. I admit it: I’ve fallen head-over-heels for Georgia’s talent. But there’s a bit of a nagging sense that I have about the Bulldogs that’s similar to the one you get when fall for someone of the opposite sex almost knowing that it’s the wrong thing, but you just can’t help yourself.

What am I talking about? For all that talent, Georgia has not played that well on defense, and it practically handed Tennessee 20 points last weekend with sloppy offensive play. On the other hand, it says a lot that the Bulldogs are still beating some good teams in spite of that. Meanwhile, Carolina is the anti-Georgia; they’re not explosive on offense, and although they lack the name recognition outside of Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney on defense, they don’t make mistakes.

Carolina’s at home, but I’m still taking Georgia. Why? I think the Bulldogs are capable of playing smarter, and have considerably more offensive explosiveness than does Carolina. In a game like this, the ability to make that one play could be the difference. Prediction: Georgia 31, South Carolina 30

Texas A&M at Ole Miss: Two teams with resurgent offenses do battle in Oxford on Saturday; one team (Ole Miss) has a bit of a quarterback issue (starter Bo Wallace can’t seem to stop turning the ball over), while the other (A&M) has a freshman quarterback in Johnny Manziel who’s done just about everything but walk on water. In fact, when it comes to not making mistakes, he’s been perfect: no picks (against 16 touchdowns) in four starts so far.

Ole Miss’s defense played great in a loss to Alabama, but the Aggies do a better job of not turning the ball over and they have a tremendous pass-rush. That’s potentially a recipe for disaster if you’re a Rebel. Prediction: Texas A&M 37, Ole Miss 27

Arkansas at Auburn: The league’s worst defense (Arkansas) plays the league’s worst offense (Auburn), so something has to give. The Tigers’ Kiehl Frazier has been a turnover machine, but Arkansas couldn’t force a miscue if its life depended on it right now, while its offense has been quite sloppy with the ball. I liked the way Auburn’s defense played at home in its last game against LSU, so I’ll take these Tigers to do it again. Prediction: Auburn 34, Arkansas 27

Mississippi State at Kentucky: It can’t get any worse for UK coach Joker Phillips… right? Wrong; the Wildcats lost their best player when QB Maxwell Smith went down with an ankle injury last week and he might be done for the year… and speaking of “done,” those words are going to describe Phillips’ tenure in Lexington in a matter of weeks. State’s schedule has been atrocious so far, but the MSU defensive backs know how to force turnovers – and when you’re starting a freshman quarterback as the Wildcats will be doing on Saturday, that’s not a good thing. Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Kentucky 10

Off: Tennessee, Alabama