McCarron's career day indicative of Tide's balance - News, Weather & Sports

McCarron's career day indicative of Tide's balance

Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron looks to throw against Ole Miss earlier in the season. (Source: University of Alabama Athletics) Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron looks to throw against Ole Miss earlier in the season. (Source: University of Alabama Athletics)

(RNN) - Here's a weekly look at five of the SEC's top performers in Week 8 and who to watch in Week 9.

Week 8 top performers:

1. A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama

For the first time in his career, McCarron threw for more than 300 yards. It's uncharacteristic given Alabama's game plan for him to throw for that many yards, but it shows what the Tide's game plan really is.

The Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0) doesn't care what anyone does on defense against them. They will take whatever you give them and beat you with it. McCarron has been at or near the top of the SEC in passing efficiency all season, but after a 306-yard, four-touchdown performance, McCarron is now the most efficient passer in the country, and has yet to throw an interception this year.

Any number of players could have been considered the Tide's top performer – T.J. Yeldon rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns and Amari Cooper caught seven balls for 162 yards and two touchdowns – but with McCarron at the helm, some teams may start to consider Alabama's passing game more formidable than its well-known rushing attack.

Alabama's ground game is second in the SEC and 20th in the nation, while its passing game is seventh in the conference and 75th in the nation. The Tide gains 1 yard per game more through the air than on the ground. The numbers favor the ground game, but in reality what the Tide does best is whatever you allow them to do.

2. Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt

If you were to list the top five running backs in the SEC based on their yardage, where would you put Stacy?

If it's anywhere lower than second, you would be wrong. After rushing for 169 yards and a touchdown against Auburn, Stacy is averaging 95 yards a game - second among running backs - more than Mike Gillislee, Marcus Lattimore, Todd Gurley and Eddie Lacy.

Vanderbilt (3-4, 2-3) still has games against Kentucky, Ole Miss and Tennessee, and each has a rushing defense in the bottom six of the conference. So Stacy will have plenty more opportunities to put up big numbers. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers gets most of the attention in Vanderbilt's offense, but it is Stacy who makes it work and who will be most responsible should the Commodores become bowl eligible.

3. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

It was against the conference's 12th-ranked defense, but Murray still put up 427 yards and four touchdowns for the Bulldogs in a 29-24 win over Kentucky.

Georgia (6-1, 4-1) is still hurting from its 35-7 loss to South Carolina, but has an important game against Florida this week. Murray hasn't been the focus of the Bulldogs' offense since the emergence of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, but his presence still can't be ignored.

Murray is second in the SEC in passing efficiency, tied for third in passing yards and tied for the conference lead in touchdown passes. Georgia's offense has the potential to be just as explosive as it always was, and Murray is the main reason for that.

4. LaDarius Perkins, RB, Mississippi State

Perkins is the only running back in the SEC averaging more than 100 yards a game and he gained 125 yards and a touchdown on the ground in a 45-3 win over Middle Tennessee.

The Bulldogs (7-0, 3-0) haven't played a ranked team yet this season, but have three in consecutive weeks with games against Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU coming up. Perkins hasn't been getting much publicity, likely because of that schedule, but he's as formidable a weapon as there has been this year, and will have to be accounted for in those games.

Only two running backs have more touchdowns than Perkins and the Bulldogs are a dangerous team because of the balance that affords.

5. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU

LSU is fifth in the conference in rushing offense with more than 200 yards a game, but is one of two SEC teams without an individual rusher in the Top 15 in the conference (Arkansas, which is last in the conference in rushing, is the other). By contrast, three teams – Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M – have two players in the top 15.

Hill had 127 yards and a touchdown against Texas A&M, and is now the Tigers' third-leading rusher with 322 yards. LSU is so deep at running back it isn't known which one will end up with the majority of the carries. The Tigers (7-1, 3-1) are in the middle of a five-game stretch facing ranked teams, but get a much-needed off week before facing Alabama and Mississippi State.

The Tigers' passing game has been a liability since starting the stretch, so the running backs are enjoying a revolving door approach that keeps them all fresh so the Tigers can move the ball. That will be even more important against the Tide in two weeks and the SEC championship game, should LSU qualify for it.

Who to watch in Week 9:

1. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina

Just how injured is he? We'll find out soon. Lattimore was ineffective, rushing three times for 13 yards last week against Florida. The Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2) play Tennessee this week, whose rushing defense is not as tough as the Gators.

Lattimore leads all SEC running backs with 10 touchdowns and his presence will be important to keep South Carolina from entering a tailspin.

South Carolina has suffered consecutive losses to LSU and Florida, but only have one ranked opponent left in Clemson at the end of the year. The Gamecocks are still in line for a good bowl game – Capitol One or Outback, perhaps? – but without Lattimore healthy and effective, that could change.

2. Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida

Florida will be leaning on its running game as it always does in its effort to wrap up the SEC East division crown. Georgia's rushing defense is 10th in the SEC, so Gillislee, who is averaging more than 90 yards a game, will shoulder most of the load.

It happens every week, but the Gators (7-0, 6-0) will use their dominant rushing attack and wear down the Georgia front seven in the first half and then take advantage in the second half. Jacksonville isn't a true neutral site, so Florida will have plenty of other things going its way in the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party."

With that in mind…

3. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

The best way to counter Florida is to turn the tables, doing to them what they've done to everyone else – wear down their defense. No one has been able to run well on Florida all season so it will be a tall order, but with Georgia's talent in the backfield and potentially explosive passing game, it is doable.

The Bulldogs have a lot of weapons, but none more exciting than Gurley. He isn't a bruiser, so the Georgia passing attack will have to loosen up the pressure on its offensive line with the passing game and then bring Gurley – and Keith Marshall – into the game plan to take advantage.

If Georgia's defense can force some turnovers, give the offense a short field and Georgia can take a two- or three-score lead, Florida's offense may not be able to catch up. But the only way to counter the Gators' ball control style is to play a similar type of game and allow the defense a chance to rest while wearing theirs down and keeping their offense off the field.

4. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

If you've noticed some qualifying statements in this article that say "among running backs" or something similar, Manziel is the reason why.

He is the SEC's No. 2 passer with 279 yards a game and No. 2 rusher with 100 yards a game. He's tied for the conference lead in rushing touchdowns with 10 and tied for fifth in passing touchdowns with 14, only two behind the leaders.

But Manziel has been ineffective good defenses. He won't have to worry about this week as the Aggies (5-2, 2-2) face Auburn (1-6, 0-5), which has the worst rushing defense in the SEC – 95th nationally – allowing 194 rushing yards per game.

5. Tyler Russell, QB, Mississippi State

It might be a surprise, but Russell has more passing touchdowns than Manziel. Russell is fifth in the conference in passing and fourth in the SEC in passing touchdowns with 15 – one behind leaders Tyler Bray, Aaron Murray and A.J. McCarron.

The Bulldogs face Alabama this week, against whom yardage and touchdowns will likely be scarce. Alabama leads the SEC in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and passing defense, and is first in the nation in those categories as well, except passing defense, where the Tide is second behind Arizona State.

Mississippi State is a similar team to Alabama, and will have to be more like Alabama than Alabama is to win. That starts with the running game, where Mississippi State has the conference's leading rusher, but Russell will have to continue to protect the ball well (he has just one interception) and take what Alabama's defense lets him have.

Alabama has not allowed a 100-yard rusher yet this season (in fact, no one has even come close to that mark) so the passing game will have to be effective to give the Bulldogs a chance. More bad news lurks there as well. The only quarterback to throw for 200 yards against the Tide was Michigan's Denard Robinson in the season opener.

Robinson threw for exactly 200 yards and had one of the two passing touchdowns Alabama has allowed. Florida Atlantic's Graham Wilbert has the other, and both came late in the game when the outcome was already determined.

Neither team turns the ball over much, but both have defenses that are good at forcing turnovers, and that could be the deciding factor.

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