Thrill of Victory

Titans pick up a win; can Vandy and Vols do the same?

The Titans finally picked up a win, and now, it’s up to Tennessee and Vandy to follow suit this weekend. Here’s a look back to last night, and a look ahead to the Southeastern Conference football weekend in front of us.

Bironas helps Titans past Steelers
So it’s not been a banner year for the Titans, to say the least. Chris Johnson is no longer CJ2K, and the dominating defenses of the past are nowhere to be found, but there is one constant: Rob Bironas is still money. On Thursday, the star kicker hit a 40-yard field goal as time expired, lifting the Titans to an exciting 26-23 victory over Pittsburgh.

Offensively, it was a good night for the Titans. Matt Hasselbeck made some nice throws to a variety of receivers, including Kenny Britt, who looked a lot like the old Kenny Britt. The much-maligned offensive line opened up some very nice creases for Johnson as well.

The Titans defense continues to struggle; on Thursday, it was in covering tight ends and running backs on pass coverage. But the run defense was stout (though it’s worth noting that the Steelers had some injuries to running backs) and after an early 82-yard scoring strike to Mike Wallace, there was just one more sustained touchdown drive.

Now at 2-4, the schedule gets considerably easier just ahead. If the Titans have even a snowball’s chance at the playoffs, though, they must take care of Buffalo (on the road) next weekend.

Can Vandy make it two straight?
Speaking of brutal schedules, Vandy’s first six games include three Top-14 squads and a pair of two other potential bowl teams in Northwestern and Missouri. One of those ranked teams is Florida, which invades Nashville to see if it can beat VU for the 22nd-straight time.

A lot of people don’t see the Commodores with much of a shot in this one; I disagree. UF’s offense isn’t of the Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer variety back when the Gators used to put up massive amounts of points. Instead, the Gators will hope to pound it out on the ground, rely on defense, and make just enough plays to win. I think the Gators can do that because they’ve better on the line of scrimmages, but don’t count the Commodores out completely. Prediction: Florida 20, Vanderbilt 10

Vols travel to unbeaten Mississippi State
Mississippi State is rarely 5-0 and ranked in the Top 20, but how much an accomplishment that is given that the five teams it has beaten are a combined 8-15 in games not involving MSU. To put it another way, who’s the Bulldogs’ best win? Would that be 3-3 Troy, or perhaps 1-4 Auburn?

Tennessee, meanwhile, had an off-week to prepare after coming oh-so-close to beating Georgia.This could be quite an interesting game because the team’s strong points (UT’s passing game, and MSU’s secondary) go head-to-head. Tyler Bray is capable of making some big plays, but his track record in SEC games has been rather pedestrian at times. Meanwhile, MSU has three or four play-making defensive backs, led by All-American Johnthan Banks, who can make you pay with a pick-6 in a hurry.

The Vols are about a field goal underdog, but folks in Knoxville believe this is a game they can win. This could be the biggest game of coach Derek Dooley’s career: he’s never recorded a win as a ranked team, and if he doesn’t get one this weekend, it’s probably not going to be pretty with Alabama and South Carolina coming up. Prediction: Mississippi State 31, Tennessee 27

Elsewhere within the Southeastern Conference…
Auburn at Ole Miss: The word I’m hearing from Alabama is that if coach Gene Chizik can’t beat Ole Miss – which has lost 16 straight SEC games – his career in Auburn may well be over. The way his team looked last weekend in a miserable loss to Arkansas, I don’t like his chances against an Ole Miss team that keeps getting better under coach Hugh Freeze. Prediction: Ole Miss 27, Auburn 13

Alabama at Missouri: The Tide looked a bit mortal in their win over Ole Miss two weeks ago, but had two weeks to fix what’s wrong. Meanwhile, that’s not enough time to fix what’s wrong at Missouri, which is James Franklin’s knee. The Tiger QB will miss this week and since Corbin Berkstresser looked like a statue in the pocket last weekend, that doesn’t bode well for Mizzou. Prediction: Alabama 34, Missouri 7

Kentucky at Arkansas: Hey, hey, the Razorbacks actually got a win last week – in convincing fashion on the road, no less! This week, they’ll play at home against perhaps the only SEC team worse than the one they beat last week. The Wildcats are down to their third-best quarterback and are riddled with injuries everywhere (for that matter, Arkansas is also banged-up) and lack the ability to make plays that Tyler Wilson and Cobi Hamilton bring to the Razorbacks. Prediction: Arkansas 30, Kentucky 17

South Carolina at LSU: Carolina’s 35-7 whipping of Georgia may have been the single most impressive win in college football this season. LSU’s performance at Florida, meanwhile, was an indication that the Tigers may have some offensive issues. USC’s offense isn’t exactly explosive in the sense that they scare defenses out of their sock, but it’s awfully efficient and QB Connor Shaw knows how to make plays. Winning at LSU is tough, but Carolina might be the hottest team in the country right now. Prediction: South Carolina 20, LSU 13

Texas A&M vs. Louisiana Tech: I’ll bet that not many people know that Louisiana Tech is 5-0, and the scores of many of those games look like basketball scores: nobody’s held the Bulldogs under 44 points yet. A&M scored a big win at Ole Miss last week, and stopping QB Johnny Manziel is easier said than done. This is A&M’s kind of game: a high-scoring shootout, and last week’s dramatic road win gives the Aggies the confidence to be victorious again. Prediction: Texas A&M 45, Louisiana Tech 38