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Blake shines despite Auburn's struggles

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Auburn's Emory Blake (80) makes a reception during the season opener against Clemson. (Source: Todd Van Emst/Auburn University) Auburn's Emory Blake (80) makes a reception during the season opener against Clemson. (Source: Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

(RNN) - Here's a weekly look at five of the SEC's top performers in Week 6 and who to watch in Week 7.

Top performers Week 6:

1. Emory Blake, WR, Auburn

Blake's production was remarkable last week despite the Tigers' offensive struggles in the loss to Arkansas. Blake accounted for more than one-third of the Tigers' offense, making 10 catches for 118 yards and Auburn's lone touchdown.

Auburn replaced starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier and halftime and while Blake finished the game with the same number of yards Frazier had passing, he actually caught more passes than Frazier completed. His touchdown came on a 21-yard pass from Clint Moseley.

Blake's only other touchdown – and only other 100-yard game – came in the season opener against Clemson. In all other games this year he's been a bit of a nonfactor because of Frazier's struggles. Despite that, Blake is still in the top 10 in the SEC in receiving.

Auburn has no other real receiver threat so if Moseley is go get the offense moving, he'll have to continue to find Blake.

2. Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida

It's old hat to keep talking about Gillislee, but he won't stop producing. He earned SEC offensive player of the week honors with his 146-yard, two touchdown performance against LSU. Gillislee is the only running back in the SEC averaging more than 100 yards a game.

Gillislee's importance to the Gators' offense goes beyond his impressive stat lines. The entire Florida game plan – offensive and defensive – revolves around his ability. Florida has been winning games in what some people would call an "ugly" fashion. In reality, it's a team-wide system made possible by its unforgiving rushing attack.

Gillislee powers a slow and steady offense, picking up tough yards if not a lot of points. This wears defenses down, which is why Florida is better in the second half than in the first. As a result, the Gator defense has to keep games low-scoring because the offense is not designed for shootouts. It could be a detriment if the defense falters, but against Texas A&M - the SEC's most potent offensive attack – Florida held the Aggies to by far their fewest points of the season, and shut them out in the second half of a 20-17 win.

As long as Gillislee keeps churning out tough yards, Florida will keep winning.

3. Tyler Russell, QB, Mississippi State

Russell threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns to beat Kentucky, and moved into the No. 5 spot in the conference for passing yards per game. Couple that with LaDarius Perkins, who is averaging 99 yards a game on the ground – second in the SEC – and the Bulldogs offense is not one to take lightly (more on this later).

It remains to be seen how those numbers will hold up against a top-tier defense – say, Oct. 27 at Alabama – but Mississippi State has been consistent all season. Russell has thrown just one interception and is fifth in TD passes with 10.

It's not difficult to envision the Bulldogs winning at least 10 games because of Russell's consistency and lack of mistakes.

4. Matt Elam, DB, Florida

Florida's 14-6 win over LSU was such a defensive struggle that someone needs to be recognized for it. The SEC actually recognized two players with co-defensive player of the week honors. Elam was honored after recording a team-high seven tackles and forcing a fumble late in the fourth quarter that helped propel the Gators to the win.

Also honored was LSU's Kevin Minter who had 20 total tackles, a school-record 17 solo tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. It wasn't hard for Minter to get those types of numbers because of how much time LSU's defense spent on the field and the fact that few other Tigers were around the ball.

Florida's defense held LSU to 200 total yards and at one point went 33 consecutive plays without allowing a first down.

5. Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss

The Rebels' passing attack has been so feeble this season that even after a 305-yard performance in a 30-27 loss to Texas A&M, Wallace is still averaging fewer than 200 yards a game.

The Aggies have the second-worst passing defense in the SEC (only Arkansas is worse), which explains the outburst. Even with that, though, Wallace threw only one touchdown and two interceptions.

The Rebels needed a win over Texas A&M to keep their bowl eligibility on track, but their next opponents are Auburn and Arkansas. Those teams' defenses are ranked 12th and 14th in the league, respectively, so the opportunity is there. A win in both would mean a win over Vanderbilt later would make the Rebels bowl eligible. Otherwise, it would require an upset of Georgia, LSU or Mississippi State.

Who to watch in Week 7:

1. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina

If Steve Spurrier knows what he's doing, he'll learn from Florida's systematic dismantling of the LSU defense and employ Lattimore in a similar pursuit. Then again, he could use the SEC's most efficient passing game to do the same thing.

Lattimore will draw the attention of the Tigers' front seven, especially now that it is known how vulnerable they are to the run. That could make things easy for the passing game early on then use Lattimore to close it out in the second half.

If LSU should get its offense rolling, South Carolina can play ball control with Lattimore and swing the advantage back to its favor.

2. A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama

Alabama's rushing game has been sluggish for a few weeks, because defenses are forced to respect its deadly combination of backs. It would behoove Missouri to respect that threat as well.

That will mean opportunities for McCarron, the second most efficient quarterback in the SEC and the only starter to be interception-free for the season.

McCarron is the epitome of what an efficient quarterback should be. He utilizes short, high-percentage throws, spreads the ball to a lot of receivers and guides an offense that has been perfect in the red zone.

Statistically, in many of the areas where Alabama's defense is effective, Missouri's defense is lackluster. The key will be locking down the running game and taking away intermediate passes, forcing McCarron to throw deep. McCarron hasn't proven he's able to throw for big plays and a go-to target for those types of passes hasn't emerged for the Crimson Tide.

If Missouri can't effectively limit his options or get a consistent pass rush, McCarron could have a big day.

3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

At this point, does it really need to be said why you should watch Manziel? If so, here's the answer. No player in the SEC means more to his team right now than Manziel.

There's a reason why he's known as "Johnny Football." Manziel leads the Aggies in both passing and rushing. He's first in the SEC in total offense, third in passing yards per game, third in rushing yards per game and third in passing efficiency among starting quarterbacks.

This week the Aggies play a ranked nonconference foe in Louisiana Tech, but Tech possesses a defense that is second to last in the country, so expect Manziel to have a big day. Both teams should test the limits of the scoreboard at Shreveport's Independence Stadium. Texas A&M has the nation's No. 8 scoring offense, while Louisiana Tech's offense is No. 3.

4. LaDarius Perkins, RB, Mississippi State

Perkins is perhaps the best player no one knows about. Perkins is one yard from averaging 100 yards a game. He has 499 yards in five games and is averaging 6.1 yards per carry. That's more yards per game than Georgia's Todd Gurley and more yards per carry than Florida's Mike Gillislee.

This week's game against Tennessee will be a prime opportunity for Perkins to gain more recognition. Mississippi State will have to quiet Tennessee's explosive passing attack and there's no better way to do that than to not let it on the field.

Perkins would be the go-to player for a ball control attack to not let Tyler Bray and his many speedy receivers a chance to turn the game into a shootout. The Bulldogs' offense hasn't shown the ability to be explosive, so it can't risk letting the scoring get out of hand, and running Perkins should keep that from happening.

5. Kenny Hilliard, RB, LSU

Hilliard had a pair of touchdowns in each of LSU's first three games and hasn't found the end zone since. That's LSU's running game – and entire offense – in a nutshell.

Hilliard split time early in the season with Alfred Blue, who is now injured and out for the season, and now splits time with Spencer Ware. Hilliard is averaging 63 yards a game but his average per carry is 6.6 yards, which is higher than Gillislee, Perkins and Lattimore.

LSU has a tough test against South Carolina this week and its passing game has proven to be all but useless in recent weeks. Hilliard and Ware will have to soften the South Carolina defense to give quarterback Zach Mettenberger an opportunity to throw.

If that proves too tough a task, the Tigers could be looking at a tough stretch when Texas A&M, Alabama and Mississippi State come calling in the next four weeks.

Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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