Originally created 11/04/04

Notebooking the SEC Eastern Division



GEORGIA: Former walk-on Tra Battle will likely be starting for the No. 9 Bulldogs on Saturday.

Star safety Thomas Davis is not expected to play against woeful Kentucky, giving him a chance to recover from a sprained knee and ankle. Georgia (7-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) has a crucial game at third-ranked Auburn the following week.

If Davis sits, Battle takes over his spot at free safety. Talk about an unlikely scenario.

Battle (whose first name is pronounced "Trey") didn't even get a scholarship offer from smaller schools in the area, winding up at Georgia as a preferred walk-on.

The problem was size - or lack of it. Battle is only 5-foot-11, 170 pounds.

But it hasn't slowed him down. While Davis (6-1, 230) is one of the most fearsome tacklers in the nation, Battle gets by on heart.

"He's going 110 percent all the time," teammate DeMario Minter said. "He may not hurt you, but he's going to hit you. He's like a little gnat."

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KENTUCKY: The Wildcats had one of the nation's best kick returners in recent years with Derek Abney, who tied an NCAA record with eight kick returns for touchdowns.

Now that Abney has graduated, the Wildcats' production on returns has dropped significantly. Kentucky (1-7, 0-5 SEC) is averaging 3.7 yards on 14 punt returns this season, and the longest return is a mere 14 yards. On kickoffs, Kentucky is averaging 20 yards per return.

Last season, Kentucky averaged 12.9 yards on punt return and 22.9 yards on kickoff return.

Freshman Dicky Lyons Jr. - the son and namesake of a standout Kentucky return man during the 1960s - had a couple of long punt returns called back because of penalties.

Kentucky also is struggling with injuries among its return corps. Lyons is out for the season with a broken shoulder blade and Keenan Burton has missed most of the season with a hairline fracture in a wrist. Also, Tony Dixon is out with a sprained ankle.

Brooks said punt return duties against No. 9 Georgia could fall to freshman running back Rafael Little. Another possibility is Draak Davis, but the undersized (5-7, 177 pounds) running back is averaging negative yards on punt returns and 18.2 yards on kickoffs.

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SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks are on the brink on having enough wins to earn bowl consideration.

Now, they've got to overcome a disheartening trend.

Over the past three seasons, South Carolina (5-3, 3-3) is 0-10 when playing a game that could have made the Gamecocks bowl eligible. The latest was a 43-39 loss to Tennessee, leaving them one short of that crucial sixth win.

South Carolina closed 2002 with a five-game losing streak to finish 5-7. A year ago, the Gamecocks lost their final four games for another 5-7 record.

There's no guaranteed wins in their final three games this season, either. South Carolina will meet Arkansas on Saturday, having lost five of its last six to the Razorbacks.

Then comes Florida, which has 13 straight wins over the Gamecocks dating back to 1939. Finally, there's rival Clemson, which has kept them at home the past two years.

Coach Lou Holtz said the Gamecocks will be rewarded if they play with the same effort they showed against Tennessee.

"We can get to a bowl game," he said. "We can win."

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TENNESSEE: Sophomore David Yancey ran for his first career touchdown last week at South Carolina.

His 23-yard TD helped the No. 9 Volunteers (7-1, 5-1) build their lead en route to a 43-29 victory.

Tennessee hosts Notre Dame on Saturday.

Yancey, of Norfolk, Va., walked on last year and earned a scholarship at the beginning of this season. He's listed as the fourth-string tailback and has played in five games this year.

"David's done well. He hasn't had many opportunities - we've had so many close games," coach Phillip Fulmer said. "A really nice run the other day."

Yancey was a surprise contributor in spring practice, helping him move up the depth chart.

At 5-foot-8, Yancey is one of the smallest players on the team, and sometimes that can be a big disadvantage, especially in protecting the quarterback when a play calls for him to remain in the backfield to block.

"If you ask him to step up there and block one of their 260-, 270-pound defensive ends coming off the edge the quarterback better look out - (Yancey) might get thrown at him," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "He will throw his hat in the ring, and he is a good runner. You use what he does well (and) keep him out of positions he doesn't do as well."

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VANDERBILT: The Commodores may have long losing streaks against both Florida (13 in a row) and Tennessee (21), but school officials will be very happy to see both on campus this month.

Vanderbilt (2-6, 1-4) hosts the Gators (4-4, 2-4) on Saturday, with ninth-ranked Tennessee coming on Nov. 20.

That means a big bump in attendance for a school whose total attendance for the first four home games wouldn't even match a capacity crowd for one home game at Tennessee.

The Commodores have drawn a league-low 105,804 fans, an average attendance of 26,451 per game and 66.5 percent of capacity.

Only one other SEC school has managed less than 94.2 percent of capacity, and that's Mississippi State at 79.5 percent.

No school has drawn fewer fans than Vandy. The next closest is Kentucky (255,614), which also has two home games remaining.

Vandy's attendance won't bump up as much as it did in 2002 or 2000. The school moved its final home game with Tennessee to the larger stadium used by the NFL Titans.

School officials decided not to do that this year after attendance slumped in 2002 because of higher ticket prices.