Notebooking the SEC Western Division
ALABAMA: It was supposed to be the calm before the storm for the 22nd-ranked Crimson Tide.
That's because next week Nick Saban's current team faces his former team, No. 3 LSU, in a nationally televised game after an open date.
But now, the university is investigating the distribution of textbooks to athletes on scholarship in all sports after five football players were suspended for violating rules covering free books for course work.
The internal probe is to determine if any scholarship athletes violated NCAA rules by obtaining more textbooks than they were allotted for their own classes.
Besides that, the Tide is trying to recover from a string of close games leading up to last week's rout of Tennessee.
"I think the week off will be quiet," cornerback Simeon Castille predicted after the game. "But the week of (LSU) (will be) definitely crazy."
The suspended players were Antoine Caldwell, Glen Coffee, Marlon Davis, Chris Rogers and Marquis Johnson. Coffee's mother, Doris Coffee, told The Birmingham News that her son is "a good kid, and so are the others. I've heard things that are being said, but he didn't do anything malicious or intentional, nothing to try to do anything wrong. Just a 20-year-old using bad judgment."
Saban's goal for the week besides dealing with the textbook issue was to give his team a chance to rest and banged up players time to heal.
"We also need to continue to improve during the bye week," he said.
ARKANSAS: Tight end Andrew Davie raised eyebrows last week with two touchdown catches in a 44-8 win over Mississippi.
Nothing against Davie, but Arkansas tight ends haven't figured into the passing game much in recent years.
The Razorbacks rely on the run, and the passes they do attempt are often directed toward wide receiver Marcus Monk or fullback Peyton Hillis. But this year Monk has barely played because of a knee injury, and tight ends Davie and D.J. Williams are contributing.
"You had to have those guys in the package when you don't have a Marcus Monk," coach Houston Nutt said. "You've got to keep these guys involved."
Davie has five catches on the season for 34 yards, and although that might not sound like much, three of his catches were for touchdowns. Last weekend, he caught scoring passes of 1 and 14 yards from Casey Dick.
Nutt said Davie's reputation as a blocker helps him get open.
"They think, 'Well, this guy's blocking again,"' Nutt said. "They lose sight of him."
Williams, a freshman, has emerged as more of a deep threat. He has four catches for 82 yards.
Last year Davie caught two passes all season, the same number as fellow tight end Wes Murphy. Ben Cleveland caught 12, but although he was a tight end in high school, it wasn't always clear in 2006 if he was better suited to play there or at wide receiver.
Tight end production was similar in 2005: Mason Templeton, Jared Hicks, Marc Winston and Wes Murphy combined to catch nine passes all year.
The last time an Arkansas tight end made a major impact in the passing game was in 2003 when Jason Peters caught 21 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns.
AUBURN: Tigers quarterback Brandon Cox no longer has just one consistently reliable receiver.
Montez Billings has stepped into the role alongside the reliable Rod Smith, making six catches for 78 yards including his first touchdown reception in last weekend's loss to LSU.
"He's definitely stepping up and becoming a go-to guy," Cox said. "Rod's a big playmaker, and having Montez next to him, it softens up the defense. They're not able to key on one guy. We have two guys out there that are playmakers."
Billings made a diving, 17-yard touchdown catch on the Tigers' opening drive in the game.
Billings was nursing a hamstring injury early in the season and only had one catch in the first four games. He has 16 in the last four. None of the other Auburn wide receivers have more than 10 catches behind he and Smith.
"We've been looking for that second receiver that Brandon can have a lot of confidence in," coach Tommy Tuberville said. "Montez has made some great plays. He's starting to get confidence. He's one of those type guys that doesn't say a lot. He just works hard. We've noticed that he's been working much harder in practice to make himself a better target."
Plagued by drops much of the season, No. 23 Auburn has tried several combinations at receiver, starting Prechae Rodriguez, Robert Dunn and now Billings at the position. Neither of those two has strung together solid games like Billings.
"It seems like the ball is coming at me more and more each game," he said. "I just have to continue making plays when the opportunity comes to me."
LSU: The Tigers have the weekend off, and they may need it after three tough games in three weeks, the latest of which also put their best defensive player on the sideline with a sprained right knee.
Coach Les Miles said it appears defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey was fortunate not to have any torn ligaments from what he characterized as a chop block that kept Dorsey out of the game for much of the second half.
Miles has already discussed the play with Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who apologized and said guard Chaz Ramsey never should have rolled up Dorsey's knee while Dorsey was already fighting off a block by Auburn tackle Lee Ziemba.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive also agreed that a personal foul penalty should have been called.
"It's important that everybody understand that it's immoral, that block," Miles said. "It's something that should not be tolerated."
LSU ended up pulling that game out with a last-second touchdown pass from Matt Flynn to Demetrius Byrd, a junior college transfer in his first season at LSU.
The dramatic come-from-behind triumph followed a triple-overtime loss at Kentucky a week earlier and a 28-24 comeback victory over Florida the week before that.
Several other players are trying to get healthier from bumps and bruises that may not have sidelined them but could have affected their play. Receiver Early Doucet is in the early stages of a comeback from a groin injury, while cornerback Chevis Jackson says his vision remains affected by a hit in the Kentucky game that caused his helmet to smash the bridge of his nose.
"It's a real advantage to have the opportunity to get some guys healed and fresh," Miles said. "We're taking that part of this week very seriously. It was perfect for us, just what we needed."
After this weekend, it's another intense game at Alabama against former LSU coach Nick Saban. If that isn't enough intrigue, the game also could decide who wins the SEC West.
MISSISSIPPI: Though rivals, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville and Mississippi's Ed Orgeron are good friends.
Their friendship dates to time together at Miami, where they were members of the defensive staff during some of the Hurricanes' most successful years.
"We learned a lot of football together, and he is a very good coach," Orgeron said. "He actually helped me get down to Miami, and we are really good friends. We didn't have any money. All we basically did was coach football and work our way up. We were like sponges down there."
Orgeron, whose Rebels hope to turn around a dismal season at Auburn after losing six of their last seven, began as a graduate assistant under Jimmy Johnson in 1988 at the same time Tuberville was a volunteer assistant.
The next year Tuberville was hired as linebackers coach and Orgeron became the defensive line coach. When Johnson left and Dennis Erickson was hired, Tuberville became defensive coordinator and kept Orgeron as his line coach.
That Tuberville was Ole Miss coach from 1995-98 only strengthens their bond.
"Ed and I have been friends for a long time," Tuberville said. "We talk about situations quite a bit during the offseason. He knows that it's winning in this league, as it is in any league. They've shown improvement. It hasn't shown in wins and losses but their players respond each week. That's normally a sign of a good coaching staff."
MISSISSIPPI ST: When Mississippi State plays at No. 14 Kentucky on Saturday, it will be the sixth time in eight games the Bulldogs have played an opponent that has been ranked at some point this season.
Coach Sylvester Croom says the Wildcats might be the stiffest test so far as his team chases bowl eligibility.
"(Kentucky) may be the best team in our conference the way they're playing at this point," Croom said.
Quarterback Andre Woodson and the Kentucky offense, on display the past two weeks against LSU and Florida, present a difficult challenge. The Wildcats are No. 1 in the SEC in scoring (42 points per game), passing (279 yards per game) and total offense (466 ypg).
While the Bulldogs have faced a few high-powered offenses, most notably against LSU and West Virginia, Kentucky's complex pro-style scheme will be something new.
"This is a different test for our guys this week as compared to last week" in a 38-13 loss to West Virginia, Croom said.
Croom said the key will be trying to trick Woodson, something few defenses have been able to do in the last two seasons.
"For us to be successful, we are going to have to play several packages to keep their quarterback as confused as possible," he said.
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