SEC impact players returning to form, new QBs leading A&M, UF - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

SEC impact players returning to form; new QBs leading A&M, UF

(RNN) - Here's a weekly look at five of the SEC's top performers in Week 3 and who to watch in Week 4.

Top performers:

1. Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida

Driskel was the SEC's offensive player of the week after throwing for 219 yards and two touchdowns and running for another 81 yards in 37-20 win over Tennessee (2-1, 0-1). The Gators will have no trouble running with Mike Gillislee paving the way, but if Driskel can keep the passing game operating smoothly and take some pressure off the ground game, Florida (3-0, 2-0) will be tough to stop.

With Florida showing that its plan is to wear down opposing teams and capitalize in the second half, Driskel's running ability will be paramount to keep the defense guessing. If he is able to break free and extend some plays, or turn a busted play into a first down, the Gators could easily pull off some wins – LSU or Georgia, maybe? – they wouldn't otherwise get.

2. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

A more impressive game than Manziel's against SMU hasn't happened yet this year. The QB threw for an A&M freshman record 294 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 124 yards and two more touchdowns.

Yes, it was against SMU, but the outing shows how important Manziel is to the Aggies' offense. Manziel was on his way to this kind of a day against Florida when the Gator defense shut it down in the second half. When the Aggies (1-1, 0-1) return to conference play against Arkansas in two weeks, Manziel will be the primary weapon to get the Aggies some respect among the "establishment."

But if a second playmaker doesn't emerge, low-hanging fruit will be all the Aggies are able to pick.

3. Kenronte Walker, S, Missouri

Two weeks ago, Missouri saw its chance to beat Georgia evaporate with two timely plays by Jarvis Jones. Walker evidently learned from that and sealed a 24-20 win over Arizona State with two stops on back-to-back drives.

First, he deflected a pass on a fourth and goal opportunity to maintain the Tigers' lead. Then on the Sun Devils' next possession, he intercepted a pass in the red zone and returned it 49 yards to seal the win. The effort earned him SEC defensive player of the week honors.

That's what happens in the SEC. Defenses are often asked to step up and win a game late and the ones that come through usually end up playing for championships. Missouri is learning what to do in its new home. Now, they just have to do it against other SEC teams.

4. Onterio McCalebb, RB, Auburn

If there is one thing Auburn has been good at – and it would be the only thing – it is getting yards on the ground. McCalebb picked up 128 yards and a touchdown and Tre Mason grabbed 90 yards and a touchdown.

Auburn (1-2, 0-1) has no other option if it wants to turn this season around than to keep feeding the ball to McCalebb and Mason, whether in runs or screen passes, and let them carry the load. Once the running game is established, then work the rest of the offense off of it. Auburn looks like it doesn't have a plan, but despite that the Tigers' running game has remained consistent while everything else around it falters.

LSU is on the slate this week and then Arkansas, so whatever fix Auburn plans to try, it will need to work quick.

5. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama

For the first time, Lacy didn't appear bothered by a nagging ankle injury he has dealt with since last season. He ran for just 55 yards, but scored three of the Crimson Tide's six rushing touchdowns against Arkansas. Even though he's the starter, Lacy has fewer yards than freshman T.J. Yeldon with the same number of carries.

He has twice the TDs, but had only one entering the game against Arkansas. If Lacy's injury problems are behind him, those numbers will pick up fast. All of Lacy's carries are between the tackles and his strength is in moving the pile and breaking tackles, which makes him an excellent every down and goal-line option. Yeldon provides the big-play potential, and many of Alabama's passing plays come from play action.

With Lacy at full strength, the nation's No. 1 team is even stronger than before.

Who to watch in Week 4:

1. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU

With the way Auburn's defense has been playing so far, any one of about five players for LSU could have a huge game. Mettenberger has thrown for 609 yards and four touchdowns this year, but gets his first taste of conference play and first road game at the same time.

LSU has a stellar running game to fall back on should there be some struggles in the passing game. Actually, it's more accurate to say LSU has a dominant running game that will set up the pass easily. Mettenberger may not need to throw much, but his performance will still be closely scrutinized.

2. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina

With the Gamecocks (3-0, 1-0) playing Missouri (2-1, 0-1) this week, it isn't known who will start at quarterback for either team. So, by default, the running game takes on added importance. South Carolina did not look good in its opening 17-13 win over Vanderbilt and Missouri took Georgia to the limit, losing only after faltering in the fourth quarter.

Lattimore could prove to be the deciding factor. He has rushed for 235 yards and four touchdowns in three games and against Vanderbilt looked like he was not yet back to full speed after surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

The result could likely stem from Lattimore's performance. When he's at his best, there's no one better. If he can find room against the same defense that held Georgia's Todd Gurley to 65 yards, it could open up a lot of different things for either Connor Shaw or Dylan Thompson, or both, depending on how the Gamecocks' quarterback situation plays out.

3. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

The Bulldogs are about to start a seven-game stretch against conference opponents and getting off to a good start and making a run at SEC East title should be no problem against Vanderbilt.

Murray has thrown for 842 yards and eight touchdowns in three games and with an ESPN2 primetime kickoff, Murray could get some quality exposure for a potential run at the Heisman Trophy. Vanderbilt's defense is porous and no team the Commodores face have a better opportunity to exploit it and give the scoreboard a workout like Georgia.

Receivers Michael Bennett and Tavarres King will be too much to handle for the outmatched Vandy secondary and Gurley should have plenty of room to run as well.

4. Jordan Rodgers/Austyn Carta-Samuels, QB, Vanderbilt

Whoever gets the start against Georgia is the most unlucky player in the SEC. Rodgers was Vanderbilt's starter entering the season and played fine, making plays with both his legs and arm, but coach James Franklin decided losing to Northwestern was unacceptable and played Samuels in a 58-0 win over Presbyterian last week.

That's called a quarterback controversy. Georgia's defense will terrorize whoever gets the nod, and just add more fuel to the arguments over who should be the starter. It should go without saying, but the last thing a team needs entering a game like this is uncertainty at its most important position.

5. Tyler Wilson/Brandon Allen, QB, Arkansas

This isn't so much a controversy as it is an unknown. Wilson is the better player and will get the start if he's able to play. Arkansas kept his status hidden from the public until Allen ran on the field for the Hogs' first series against Alabama.

Arkansas plays Rutgers, who is 3-0, this week and no team is more desperate for a win than the Razorbacks. After last week's 52-0 loss to Alabama, another loss would be devastating. If Wilson can't go, Allen will have to take the team on his back and get the Razorbacks something positive to build on.

If Wilson can play, and coach John L. Smith refuses to address this issue, all eyes will be on him to see if his still undefined injury will be a lingering problem.

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