1 thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 11 of 2020
If you’re like me, you looked down at the calendar and did a double take.
Yes, it’s December. Yes, it’s weird to still have regular season football.
But here we are, talking regular season football in December, which is better than the alternative. Cheers to that.
And go figure that even in December, we’re still learning things. Lots of things, in fact. Like, we learned that Jeremy Pruitt is physically capable of starting a true freshman quarterback. Go figure!
We also learned that we’ve officially got an SEC Championship field set … even though we knew it for the last month. Hey, it still counts.
Here are are the other things we learned from each SEC team in action:
Alabama — The DeVonta Smith Heisman Trophy campaign needs to be talked about
On a night in which Alabama set a record for its most points ever scored against LSU, Smith was, once again, brilliant. Sure, it’s not a surprise when Smith goes off for a 200-yard game, which he’s now done 4 times in his career. But man, the guy had 199 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns in the first half alone. The catch he made for that third down, well, it might very well have launched his Heisman campaign to the masses:
DEVONTA SMITH IS RIDICULOUS pic.twitter.com/NhCkPJAccB
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 6, 2020
Come on. That’s silly. Smith couldn’t be guarded by anyone in that LSU secondary, and that included Derek Stingley Jr.
Entering the weekend, Smith ranked No. 2 in Power 5 in both catches and receiving yards, and he was No. 1 in receiving touchdowns. Again, that was before he had 8 catches for 231 yards and 3 touchdowns in primetime against a rival. In just 9 games, Smith has 80 catches for 1,305 yards and 15 touchdowns. Dede Westbrook was the last receiver to finish in the top 5 of the Heisman voting in 2012, and in 12 pre-Heisman games, he had 74 catches for 1,465 yards and 16 touchdowns. That was also against Big 12 defenses.
Shoot, on a per/game basis, compare it to Amari Cooper’s 2014:
It’s not being a prisoner of the moment to suggest that Smith needs to seriously start getting Heisman consideration. It’s been 17 years since a receiver finished in the top 2 of the Heisman. Dare I say we’re not that far off from seeing Smith make a little history.
Arkansas — Feleipe Franks being out was ________.
Surprising? Nobody had any idea that the Arkansas quarterback would be out of action on Saturday. That includes the broadcast team, who met with Franks and assumed he’d be the guy. But as we found out, Franks had a rib injury and he was a game-time decision to miss. We got what could be a glimpse of the future with KJ Jefferson, who flashed some of the ability that excited Arkansas fans even during the Chad Morris era.
Jefferson had a throw to Treylon Burks on that deep touchdown that was Franks-like. There’s no question that Jefferson has the tools. He still struggles with accuracy, though. He was much better with big throwing windows. Usually you win a game when you hit 48 points. Jefferson wasn’t the problem. Allowing 50 points and struggling to get stops late was the issue.
Franks being out was … not a death sentence.
Auburn — Gus Malzahn wants you to accept mediocrity
Look. I think Auburn is one of the most unique jobs in the country. The dynamics of having Alabama in the state coupled with 21st century national championship upside will make that the case until further notice. But after watching your team lose by double digits at home a week after getting pummeled by Alabama, saying that getting to 6-4 would be “a solid year” is eyebrow-raising:
since this quote is obviously getting a ton of attention, I transcribed the full question and answer here pic.twitter.com/PnyPGYloGr
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) December 5, 2020
So, um, about that. Malzahn is trying to say that if you add in the nonconference schedule, that’d be like a 9-win regular season. The problem is that, well, it’s not a normal year. Even if you just want to say that it’d be like going 5-3 in conference play if this were a normal year, I’d argue Auburn fans wouldn’t be satisfied with that.
We’re talking about blowout losses to Auburn’s 2 biggest rivals with a double-digit home loss to A&M, plus an embarrassing loss to South Carolina. Shoot, even the Arkansas and Ole Miss wins were disputed because of some questionable calls late that bounced Auburn’s way. That’s the problem. How many times has Auburn truly felt good after a game? Three?
A 5-4 Auburn team isn’t on the brink of a “solid year.”
Florida — So Dan Mullen playing Emory Jones isn’t an automatic
I thought it was noteworthy that Jones never played in a game in which Florida was up several scores for the entire second half. Jones didn’t even come in to spark the running game, which was ineffective. Instead, Kyle Trask played every snap. He threw the ball 49 times and for the first time since the Texas A&M loss, Jones didn’t play. Lord knows Florida wants wanted him to.
Am I accusing Dan Mullen of padding Trask’s stats? No. Once Florida got up 34-7 with 11 minutes left, Trask only had 2 pass attempts. That wasn’t padding stats, but it was perhaps something that Mullen never turned to Jones in the middle of the game, which has been a common occurrence the last couple years. I don’t want to speculate because this isn’t the first time that’s happened, but I’d argue the previous 2 games weren’t as lopsided as this one (the final score made it closer than the game actually was).
Kentucky — There are still favorable matchups for the offense
When you lose 4 of 5 games and fail to exceed 14 points in those losses, it’s fair to start questioning some things. Like, when are the points ever gonna come again? When you’re 1-dimensional like Kentucky, those offensive droughts seem to sting in a different way. On Saturday against a decimated South Carolina defense, the Cats finally got rolling again on Senior Night. Having Chris Rodriguez back probably helped with that after his 2-game absence.
That was also the first game that Kentucky hit 200 passing yards since the season opener against Auburn. Credit Terry Wilson, who became the first Kentucky quarterback to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards, for having the closing performance he deserved. Would that have happened if South Carolina had Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu? No, but the Cats played the hand they were dealt and they took advantage.
LSU — No, Texas A&M wasn’t a turn-the-corner game for the pass defense
Nobody should’ve expected Bo Pelini to pull one over on Steve Sarkisian. Nobody. I’d say 45 points and over 400 yards of offense in the first half squashed any notion that LSU was figuring things out after the Texas A&M game. The Tigers just didn’t face a team who could exploit those matchups. A&M didn’t have a DeVonta Smith, and Sarkisian is on a different level as a play-caller. Mac Jones was comfortable all night with those big windows he had to throw into.
LSU entered Saturday ranked No. 120 in FBS in pass defense. That was before Jones and Smith took their lunch money. That wasn’t just a product of Derek Stingley Jr. getting a little banged up. Why he wasn’t on Smith the entire night, I don’t know. Maybe that ankle was slowing him down more than he realized. It seemed like there was some disagreement between Stingley and Orgeron about that. Whatever the case, Jones averaged 13.8 yards per attempt and looked like he was playing against air for most of the night.
The only bright side for LSU fans? They got 1 day closer to Pelini no longer running the defense (into the ground).
Mizzou — This team can win a game without Nick Bolton, even if it shouldn’t have had to
Yeah, I’ll say it. That was a trash targeting call. Absolute trash.
Nick Bolton was just ejected for targeting on an absolutely awful call. pic.twitter.com/NosVziqkqX
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) December 5, 2020
I still cannot believe that was called AND confirmed, much less on arguably the best defensive player in the league. Good grief. What are we doing? How can we still be so lost on targeting? That’s not a hit to the head or neck area. That’s not launching. That’s not leading with the crown of the helmet. That’s. Not. Targeting.
We cannot simply call things because a guy is put in a bad spot. That’s 100% what happened here. How officials cannot see that when it gets slowed down is beyond me. That’s just horrendous. Mizzou shouldn’t have had to play an entire half of football without that guy. And yeah, I know he still got to be on the sidelines and essentially turn into another on-field coach.
Oh. I should probably talk about how Mizzou rallied back in the final minute and won for the 5th time in the last 6 games despite the fact that their All-American, do-it-all, alpha male of a linebacker was relegated to the sidelines. That was impressive. Super impressive actually. Staying poised after bobbling the game-sealing interception and losing the lead wasn’t a given.
Eli Drinkwitz has done a heck of a job this year, and he needs to be talked about more. The guy might have a 6-4 regular season after we were debating if Mizzou was going to win multiple games. Remarkable.
You know, unlike that targeting call.
South Carolina — The defensive depletion was even worse than I realized
I knew it was bad. I didn’t realize it was this bad:
Nugget dujour for South Carolina- Kentucky tonight on @SECNetwork pic.twitter.com/1QRwDYq2GF
— Tom Hart (@tom_hart) December 5, 2020
Yikes. One starter left from the opener?! That’s how you become a double-digit underdog against one of the worst offenses in the SEC. It’s usually not good when you’ve got 2 true freshmen linebackers starting, and when you’ve got a converted offensive lineman starting on the defensive line after learning the position a couple weeks ago, that’s not ideal, either. It was pretty evident, too. Chris Rodriguez and AJ Rose got rolling and Kentucky threw for 200 yards, which never happens.
You knew that the mass exodus was coming after Will Muschamp left. Perhaps the Mizzou game masked a few issues with guys playing inspired on the defensive side. The last 2 weeks, however, South Carolina allowed an averaged of 300 rushing yards in 40-point defensive efforts.
Tennessee — Jeremy Pruitt doesn’t hate true freshmen quarterbacks after all!
Well, sort of. Yes, Harrison Bailey got the start. No, Jarrett Guarantano didn’t play. Progress, right? That was the good. And Bailey had a nice scoring drive that surely made the Tennessee faithful even more giddy than those 10-second videos of Bailey that always went viral.
The problem, of course, was that Pruitt then brought in both Brian Maurer and J.T. Shrout. It was Shrout who played late. Why, you ask? That’s a good question. Perhaps Pruitt wasn’t concerned about getting his true freshman quarterback snaps during a lost season. Perhaps he wanted an ugly loss to not look as ugly. I couldn’t tell you. What I could tell you was Bailey looked like how we all expected him to look. There’s potential. There’s a lack of pocket awareness. There’s something that isn’t Guarantano. Whatever the case, Pruitt would be wise to give his true freshman every snap possible moving forward.
Texas A&M — This is a different version of Kellen Mond
The pre-2020 version of Mond loses that game. He makes that back-breaking throw, he takes that devastating third-down sack and he turtles in winning time. That version of Mond was nowhere to be found on Saturday. Instead, he made plays with his legs, he made clutch throws and he was exactly the leader A&M needed to keep his Playoff hopes alive.
Remember, Mond entered 2020 with 2 road wins in his career. He’s now got 3 in 2020 alone, and none were more impressive than Saturday. Go figure it came on a day in which he joined Dak Prescott and Tim Tebow as the only SEC quarterbacks with 9,000 career passing yards and 1,500 career rushing yards. Mond’s career numbers will wind up being much more impressive than some realize, though the “yeah, but” has always been that he doesn’t have those signature wins. Against the highest-paid defensive coordinator in America on the road with A&M’s Playoff hopes on the line, that, in my opinion, was Mond’s best win.
Whether the Aggies make the Playoff or not, this has been one of the better storylines in 2020.