1 thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 10 of 2020
Rivalry Week. Sort of.
I mean, usually the entire league plays during Rivalry Week. Alas, 2020 did its thing. Tennessee and Arkansas were both forced out of action after some COVID-related schedule shuffling.
Saturday was a 2020 Rivalry Week that might not have had the same sort of implications that we see to close out the regular season, but it was still significant.
So what did we learn about every team in action?
Alabama — Taking Nick Saban away didn’t change the inevitable
Take away the greatest coach of all-time because of a positive COVID test and what happens? Well, a team with a major matchup advantage still rolls. Imagine that. This game didn’t come down to major halftime adjustments, and it didn’t fall to Pete Golding making some 3rd-down call with the game on the line. Mac Jones and Co. were too good for that. Of course, Saban still had his hand on that game plan. If anything, it might’ve been an easier game for him to miss without any sort of extra motivation needed.
It was telling when the spread really didn’t change once the Saban news came out. Again, that’s not to say his role is irrelevant. But it would’ve taken a whole lot more than that for Auburn to have a chance on Saturday.
Auburn — Tank Bigsby wasn’t right
I figured the Auburn tailback, who is incredibly tough, probably wasn’t going to look like himself coming off the lower-body injury against Tennessee. It was somewhat impressive that he even got 11 carries on Saturday. That same burst just wasn’t there. The true freshman lacked that special ability to break tackles. Game flow didn’t help Bigsby, but that was never going to be a game in which he got his usual full workload.
Shaun Shivers started, and like Bigsby, he never had a carry of more than 6 yards. That put a lot of pressure on Bo Nix, who was in no position to handle that on the road against that Alabama defense. Bigsby is the straw that stirs the drink for Auburn. If he isn’t right for the end of the season, the Tigers are going to have some frustrating offensive performances to close the regular season.
Florida — Kyle Pitts is healthy and still Kyle Pitts
After suffering that concussion against Georgia, Pitts made his presence felt in a major way. He was, just as he’s been all year, un-guardable. The guy ran away from the Kentucky secondary on his first-quarter touchdown, and he reminded everyone why he’s a cheat code in the red zone.
Welcome back, Kyle Pitts 🐊 pic.twitter.com/hnLPhtCxUI
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 28, 2020
Pitts had all 3 of Kyle Trask’s touchdown passes, which reminded us why he’s arguably the best overall player in the SEC. Pitts didn’t look like a guy who had to shake off any rest after missing the last 2.5 games. He got in and out of his breaks well and perhaps most importantly, he was still making plays in the second half.
It’s a shame that Pitts isn’t going to get a full season. He’s already at 11 touchdowns on the year, despite the fact that he’s played half of a normal regular season (6 games). We’re still looking for a team who can actually guard the 2020 version of Pitts. Good luck, Alabama.
Georgia — The ground game isn’t just giving way to JT Daniels
Remember last week when Georgia had 8 rushing yards and everyone fell in love with Daniels? Well, that was a totally different story on Saturday against South Carolina. Daniels somewhat took a back seat to Georgia’s ground attack, which had a major bounce-back week against a depleted South Carolina squad. A whopping 332 rushing yards was a season-high for the Dawgs. Having James Cook and Zamir White healthy certainly helped, but even Daijun Edwards and Kenny McIntosh combined for 156 yards on 23 carries. It was one of those kind of nights.
Daniels only completed 10 passes (11 if you count the pick on the bobbled ball from Kearis Jackson). It didn’t matter. Daniels still showed off the arm, but when the ground game was rolling like that, it didn’t make much sense to turn it over to the passing game. It’s a shame that Georgia couldn’t have found this kind of offensive balance earlier in the year.
I’m preaching to the choir on that one, Georgia fans.
Kentucky — The Cats still look like depleted bunch
Down somewhere between 15-18 players because of COVID-related issues, you knew the Cats were in some trouble on the road against another top-10 team. Being without your best tailback and 2 starting offensive linemen is essentially a death sentence for a team who operates the way Kentucky does. The Cats had success in the first half when it kept that Florida offense off the field. But after Dan Mullen blasted Todd Grantham on the sidelines, it was all she wrote for a team who again ran out of gas. Florida finally started selling out to stop the run, and the mistakes soon followed.
That’s 4 losses in the last 5 games, all of which featured 10 points or less. Yuck. Eddie Gran had an excellent game script early, but this Kentucky offense is just so limited with its personnel, especially when it has COVID-related depletion like what it had on Saturday.
LSU — This pass defense hasn’t mailed it in
Against Kellen Mond, who has been playing extremely well this year, I thought the Tigers’ man-to-man coverage frustrated him all night. Besides taking his first sack since the season opener, Mond was indecisive and inaccurate. The conditions didn’t help, but credit Derek Stingley Jr. and Co. for showing that they haven’t mailed it in. Mond was held to 3 yards per attempt and he completed less than 1/3 of his passes. It was easily his worst game of the year.
Bo Pelini probably would’ve liked to have seen LSU’s best defensive performance coincide with a win. Given how ineffective LSU’s offense was — T.J. Finley also had a bad pick-6 — that wasn’t in the cards on Saturday. Still, if you were looking for a positive amidst this brutal schedule of offenses on LSU’s schedule to end the regular season, that was clearly it.
MSU — The Mike Leach offense is indeed making progress
Yes, it was a loss. No, MSU didn’t have the performance that it had in the opener against LSU. But Will Rogers broke an Egg Bowl record with 440 yards. It took 61 attempts to get there, but I still thought we saw a lot of positives from an MSU offense that’s been frustratingly inefficient in Year 1 of the Mike Leach era. A depleted MSU team nearly gained 500 total yards, albeit against the SEC’s worst defense.
Saturday was still another sign that Will Rogers is the guy moving forward. Leach can build the offense around a guy who can make those throws. When he gets time to do that and MSU can actually protect against a 3-man front, the offense doesn’t look so bad. These receivers are actually learning how to settle into the soft spots of zones, which is going to be a major priority in Leach’s offense. You can only throw so many swing passes and underneath routes.
Mizzou — Larry Rountree III can still be that dude
The last 2 games felt like 2019 for Rountree — tough sledding. In games against Florida and South Carolina, both of whom have struggled to stop the run, Rountree had just 94 yards on 35 carries. But on Saturday against Vandy, he was unstoppable. He finished the day with his career high vs. SEC competition (160 rushing yards) to go along with 3 touchdowns. That was his first time hitting 4 yards per carry in a game since the LSU game on Oct. 10. Even against a depleted Vandy squad, it was nice to see the Mizzou ground game get going like that en route to win No. 4.
If there was anyone to blame for Vandy not being able to get its offense on the field and into field goal range, it was Rountree (more on that later).
Ole Miss — Otis Reese could’ve made a major difference for this defense
There was a line on the broadcast that made me do a double take. Ole Miss co-defensive coordinator Chris Partridge said that Reese, who was playing in his first game on Saturday, was the best player on that Ole Miss defense. Is that saying much? Probably not, but I thought that was telling. Ole Miss could’ve desperately used a versatile, hybrid safety like Reese. He seemed to have a nose for the football.
The Georgia transfer didn’t gain eligibility until this past week, which prompted Lane Kiffin to say that he’d play “a lot.” That proved to be true. He had 8 tackles, he defended a pass and he nearly forced a fumble, but it was called back because the ball-carrier’s knee hit the ground. Why it took Reese so long to gain eligibility is anyone’s guess. Who knows how many breakaway touchdowns he would’ve prevented for that porous Ole Miss defense.
South Carolina — Mike Bobo IS capable of starting Luke Doty
There shouldn’t have been any debate about this after Doty provided a spark in last week’s loss against Mizzou, but Bobo still said that he didn’t want to publicly name a starter. Well, it was obvious that Doty was finally going to be the guy. Against a rock solid Georgia defense, the true freshman looked like he at least gave South Carolina an identity. He’s not particularly good when he gets behind the sticks, but playing Doty still makes much more sense than more Collin Hill.
Doty completed 18 of 22 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown to Nick Muse, who had a big day for a South Carolina offense that again played without Shi Smith. Georgia dared Doty to throw the ball, which he did at a better clip than many would’ve in his shoes. I’m not sure you can call Saturday a glimpse of the future without knowing what type of offense the new coach will run, but Doty certainly made South Carolina more interesting than it’s been for much of 2020.
Texas A&M — There could be a blueprint to contain this A&M passing offense
And go figure that Bo Pelini’s previously horrendous pass defense provided it. Mond had his worst game of the season. It looked like he was throwing into tight windows like he did for far too much of last season. If not for Isaiah Spiller going off and A&M defense flexing its muscles, that would’ve been magnified. Mond even had an uncharacteristic fumble trying to stretch for a 4th and 1. It was, in every way, a disastrous night for Mond with the exception of the final score.
But in a weird way, that’s what’s different about this A&M team. In the past, the Aggies wouldn’t have put together 60 minutes of defense like that. The ground game wouldn’t have gotten rolling. It would’ve been all about Mond’s struggles and his inability to take that next step. Instead, Mond’s subpar performance can potentially be a pebble on A&M’s path to Playoff contention.
Of course, if Pelini did just provide the man coverage blueprint to containing A&M, the Aggies might not have a clear path at all.
Vanderbilt — History can be made … even when Vandy does a Vandy thing
Sarah Fuller’s historic day as the first woman to ever play in a Power 5 game would’ve been even better if she had made a field goal, but then again, that meant relying on Vandy to, you know, get into field goal range. Or, you know, score a touchdown. All we got from Fuller was a squib kick to start off the second half.
(Yes, that’s what a designed squib kick looks like.)
Still, Fuller’s day was monumental. Who cares if she didn’t kick a field goal? She’s an inspiration. Think about all the girls who have tried to do exactly what she did but they were told they couldn’t. Credit Vandy players for welcoming her in open arms. You saw players like Michael Wright tweet and speak their support of Fuller’s historic achievement. I mean, she delivered the halftime speech. If you can’t understand why Fuller was the talk of the college football world, well, that’s on you.
As for the rest of us, here’s hoping we can see Fuller make some more history next week.