Top performers: Running QBs, pass rush highlight SEC title game - CBS 5 - KPHO

Top performers: Running QBs, pass rush highlight SEC title game

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Missouri quarterback James Franklin (1) is a dual-threat and could put a strain on Auburn's pass rush and vulnerable secondary. (Source: Georgia Athletics) Missouri quarterback James Franklin (1) is a dual-threat and could put a strain on Auburn's pass rush and vulnerable secondary. (Source: Georgia Athletics)
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall (14) leads the SEC's top rushing attack and has pulled out dramatic wins in the last two weeks with crucial passing plays. (Source: Georgia Athletics) Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall (14) leads the SEC's top rushing attack and has pulled out dramatic wins in the last two weeks with crucial passing plays. (Source: Georgia Athletics)
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(RNN) – Here's a weekly look at five of the SEC's top performers in Week 14 and who to watch in Saturday's SEC championship game.

Week 14 top performers:

1. Chris Davis, CB, Auburn – Auburn's dramatic 34-28 win over Alabama ended with Davis sprinting 100 yards on a missed field goal return to win the game. The return put Auburn in the SEC championship game and earn Davis the SEC's co-special teams player of the week and a standing ovation in his geology class.

He also tied for the team lead in tackles with 10, but it's the return that will be the highlight of his career. It was only the fourth time in NCAA history a missed field goal was returned the length of the field and the first time as time expired.

For a scientific breakdown of the return, John Brenkus of ESPN's Sport Science outlined how Davis eluded Alabama's defenders on his way to Iron Bowl immortality.

2. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri – On the other side of the conference, Missouri wrapped up its berth in the SEC championship with a 28-21 win over Texas A&M. Gaines was named co-defensive player of the week for his coverage of receiver Mike Evans, who was held to four catches for 8 yards. Evans had been averaging 119 yards per game before that.

Gaines is fourth in the conference with four interceptions and third on the team in tackles despite missing two games with an injury.

3. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU – Hill wrapped up his season with a 145-yard performance and a touchdown in the Tigers' 31-27 win over Arkansas.

LSU is in line for a trip to the Cotton Bowl, if the bids go according to most projections.

4. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State – Prescott wasn't supposed to play in the Egg Bowl due to a shoulder injury, but he was brought out in the fourth quarter, threw for 115 yards, ran for 29 more and scored a touchdown in the Bulldogs' 17-10 overtime win.

Nickoe Whitley, who forced Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace to fumble in the extra frame, was named co-defensive player of the week.

The win earned the Bulldogs bowl eligibility, but their bid is dependent on several factors, including whether they are chosen ahead of Ole Miss – who has one more win but lost to them – and geographic factors. The Liberty Bowl or the BBVA Compass Bowl seem like their most likely destinations.

5. Carey Spear, K, Vanderbilt – The Commodores closed out their first back-to-back eight-win seasons with a 23-21 toppling of Wake Forest.

Spear was named co-special teams player of the week after kicking three field goals, including two in the fourth quarter to pull out the win.

It is the third straight year Vanderbilt has been bowl eligible, and the Commodores are projected to end up in the Liberty Bowl or the Music City Bowl.

Who to watch in the SEC championship game:

1. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn – Marshall could become Auburn's second 1,000-yard rusher this season with 78 more yards, which is slightly above his yards per game average of 76.

He paces Auburn's zone read rushing attack that is fifth in nation with 318 yards/game and provides the counter-punch to Tre Mason, who leads the SEC with 1,317 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. But in Auburn's two dramatic wins over Georgia and Alabama, it was the passing game that came through in the clutch.

Marshall found Ricardo Louis on a desperation heave against Georgia and baited Alabama's defense into covering the run before tossing the ball to a wide open Sammie Coates to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.

Missouri hasn't given up a lot of points this season (they're 14th nationally and second in the SEC in scoring defense), but its secondary has allowed more yards than any other SEC team, surrendering 266 yards/game.

Auburn's strength is its running game, but when they need a big play, the Tigers go to the air.

2. L'Damian Washington, WR, Missouri – Missouri has primarily made its living on the ground behind running back Henry Josey, but the Tigers have three receivers who are much taller than Auburn's defenders and will be facing a secondary that is 13th in the SEC and 100th nationally, allowing 256 yards passing per game.

Washington, a 6'4" senior, is sixth in the SEC in receiving, having grabbed 44 balls for 824 yards and 10 touchdowns. Dorial Green-Beckham, a 6'6" sophomore, and Marcus Lucas, a 6'5" senior, provide an excellent complement to him with 686 and 596 yards receiving, respectively.

Auburn's vulnerability to the pass could be a major liability if the game turns into a shootout.

3. Michael Sam, DE, Missouri – Auburn's offense negates Sam's primary impact, which is as a pass rusher, but he will still prove instrumental is stopping the run. Sam leads the SEC in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (18), and he could disrupt Auburn's passing game in long yardage situations.

Sam will also be called on to play an important role against Auburn's zone read. If he's able to penetrate the backfield, it could be difficult for the scheme to be consistently effective.

4. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn – Ford doesn't trail Sam in sacks (8) and tackles for loss (12) by much, and his ability to pressure the quarterback could be the difference between a win and a loss. With Auburn's vulnerable secondary matching up with Missouri's wideouts and dual-threat quarterback, disrupting timing and forcing quick decisions will be crucial.

Ford not only has the ability to create turnovers in the backfield, he can also force bad throws that can lead to interceptions. If Missouri can't attack Auburn's defense in a balanced way, it won't have success.

5. James Franklin, QB, Missouri – The X factor in the game is Franklin's ability to scramble and make plays with his feet when receivers are covered.

He missed four games due to injury, so scouting may be tougher than usual with limited film on him. Before he was injured, Franklin nearly rivaled Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel's dual-threat ability. He has completed two-thirds of his passes and has 16 touchdowns against four interceptions.

Franklin has also rushed for 412 yards. Against mobile quarterbacks, Auburn surrendered more than 500 total yards to Manziel, 336 yards to Ole Miss' Bo Wallace and 346 to Mississippi State's Dak Prescott. Both Manziel and Prescott led their teams in rushing against Auburn and picked up a score on the ground – Prescott was particularly effective, rushing for 100 yards and two scores.

With all other factors appearing equal, it could be Franklin's ability to avoid the pass rush, extend plays and convert broken plays into positive yardage that will make the difference.

Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

  • Question of the Day

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