Arkansas' Hamilton shines in loss; Bama's Lacy improving weekly - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Arkansas' Hamilton shines in loss; Bama's Lacy improving weekly

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  • What We Learned from the SEC in Week 1

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(RNN) - Here's a weekly look at five of the SEC's top performers in Week 4 and who to watch in Week 5.

Top performers:

1. Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas

It isn't often that players get rewarded in a loss, but when you gain an SEC-record 303 yards it happens. Hamilton had 126 yards and one touchdown entering the game and added three touchdowns to his gaudy yardage totals.

It wasn't enough to lift the Hogs over Rutgers, but it does show who the man to stop in Arkansas' offense is. Hamilton may need a few more big games if Arkansas is to get back being respectable, and this week against A&M will be another chance to do it.

2. Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina

No one in South Carolina history had ever completed 20 consecutive passes until Shaw did it Saturday. He was still on the streak when Dylan Thompson came in for mop-up duty, so it could have been even longer.

But it wasn't just consistency. Shaw guided a very efficient passing game against Missouri, throwing for 249 yards and two touchdowns helping No. 6 South Carolina show it's a real threat to take down Georgia and/or Florida and play for the SEC championship. In two weeks, we'll find out just how legitimate that threat is.

3. Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida

Driskel's intrinsic value is that he doesn't make mistakes and can make some plays on the ground when needed. Driskel isn't the star of Florida's team, but he is invaluable in that he has a lot of intangible qualities that don't show up in the box score.

He threw for 203 yards and a touchdown against Kentucky, which isn't eye-popping, but 10 receivers caught balls thrown by Driskel, which means he can find the open the man regardless who/where he is. Against tougher opponents like Georgia, South Carolina or LSU, that could be the difference in a first down/touchdown and a punt/field goal/interception.

Florida improved its awful third-down conversion rate, going 12-for-17 against Kentucky moving them up from 111 nationally to 71, jumping Auburn, Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi State in the process. Driskel - and Kentucky's woebegone defense - is a big reason why that happened.

4. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee

Akron gave Tennessee a lot more problems than it should have, but Bray came through in the fourth quarter and put the game away late.

Bray threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns, including two in the final 10 minutes to take Tennessee's one-score lead to a place where the Zips couldn't come back. Tennessee won't be able to rely on that against its next opponents – Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama, South Carolina – but Bray has shown that Tennessee is above the bottom tier of the conference. He will probably have to prove it at the end of the season for the Vols to get a bowl game.

5. Brad Wing, P, LSU

While Florida has improved its third-down problems, LSU has created some. The Tigers went 6-for-18 on third downs, falling from No. 20 nationally to tied at 44 with Alabama and two other teams.

That gave Wing, a sophomore from Australia, a workout, punting eight times. He averaged 42 yards per punt and put three of them inside the 20. In a field-position game, that is a tremendous advantage.

Wing is 10th in the country and second in the SEC (behind Texas A&M's Ryan Epperson) in punting average. Additionally, LSU's opponents have a total of -4 punt return yards against the Tigers. When LSU gets in close games, it will be Wing who makes the difference.

Who to watch for in Week 5:

1. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Everybody knows Aaron Murray and the Georgia passing game is formidable and relentless, but Gurley has been just as important to the Bulldogs' offense. Gurley has rushed for 402 yards and six touchdowns, but the most impressive number he has put up is his yards per carry average, which is 9.2.

That's statistic is absurd, and No. 2 running back Keith Marshall has half of Gurley's yards and touchdowns on just two fewer carries, but is still averaging 6.3 yards a touch. Tennessee's defense has a tall order stopping the Georgia passing attack, but stopping the ground game is an even more formidable task.

Tennessee's best hope is to keep Georgia's offense off the field. Keeping that in mind…

2. Rajion Neal, RB, Tennessee

Tennessee's only chance to beat Georgia is to be balanced on offense, keep the defense on its heels and attack from multiple places. The Vols' passing game is up to the challenge, but their running game has been mired by inconsistency.

If Neal can get some big runs and keep the offense from stalling in short yardage situations, it will take a lot of pressure off quarterback Tyler Bray. Georgia is not saying if All-America safety Bacarri Rambo will be back this week, but speculation is that he will be. If he returns, that puts added pressure on the running game from the start.

If Tennessee's defense can keep the scoring down, Neal could prove to be the deciding factor by allowing Tennessee to sustain long drives and not let Georgia have the opportunity to play offense.

3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

No one is more important to their team than Manziel is to the Aggies. He has more rushing touchdowns than any other player on the team has total touchdowns. That is, except for his passing touchdowns. Manziel has thrown for 641 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 262 yards and five touchdowns. He leads A&M in each of those stats.

As a passer, he has distributed the wealth so well that neither of the Aggies' two leading receivers has a touchdown. But it has all happened against weak opponents. The only quality team Texas A&M has played was Florida, and the Gators kept the A&M offense in check, especially the passing game.

Arkansas is a much easier test this week, but both teams are trying to find their identity. Arkansas' defense has been its biggest weakness and Manziel should be able to exploit that. With Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson over his injury, it's not unthinkable for the teams to combine for 100 points - you know, like in A&M's former home, the Big 12.

4. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina

The knee brace Lattimore wore in South Carolina's first three games was gone when he took the field against Missouri and he ran for 85 yards and two touchdowns. The message was clear: He's back to being 100 percent.

After the game, Lattimore said he felt restricted with the brace on and it felt good to run without it. Kentucky is the perfect opponent to unleash on, and Lattimore will likely do plenty of damage to the Wildcats this week. He's got 320 yards in four games with six touchdowns and Kentucky has what barely passes even the most lenient definitions of a defense.

5. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama

Lacy didn't score against Florida Atlantic, but he did gain more than 100 yards for the first time this season. He continues to trail backup T.J. Yeldon in yardage, but the Tide's game with Ole Miss this week could be a breakout performance.

Ole Miss is defensively challenged, and Alabama's offense should be on the field a lot, like in previous games. Yeldon will still get his touches, but Alabama has to turn Lacy loose sometime. The Tide is off after playing the Rebels, so this would be a good opportunity to assess which back is truly better.

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