1 thing I learned from every SEC team in Week 10
I don’t want to scare you, but we’re in the home stretch. We’ve reached the point where we can start saying “the final month of the regular season,” which is just all sorts of terrifying.
Sorry, that was rude. Let me start again.
Week 10 is in the books! We’ve still got 4 Saturdays left plus bowl season! Cheers!
Here’s what I learned from every SEC team in a wild Week 10:
Alabama — A bye week didn’t fix that whole ‘playing down to the competition’ thing
So consider this. Alabama has been involved in 1-score games in the 4th quarter against 4-5 Florida, 5-4 Tennessee and, most recently, 4-5 LSU. Of course, there was also Texas A&M, which apparently just needed to face Alabama to turn around its season.
Bizarre. Bizarre it was to see Alabama come out that flat as a 28-point favorite to an LSU team with a lame-duck coach and half a dozen defensive starters out. The Tide got the 4th-down stop it needed to close out that game late, but it’s pretty simple. Alabama doesn’t play complete games. It has poor play from its linebackers in key spots, and when Will Anderson or Phil Mathis doesn’t generate pressure, it feels like the Tide can’t get off the field.
More troubling was the lack of ground game presence. Bill O’Brien’s offense had 6 rushing yards. Six. That’s it. Against an LSU defense that ranked in the bottom half in FBS in run defense. Alabama needed 27 minutes to score a point. This is far from a complete unit as it stands going into mid-November. And no, that’s not just the byproduct of being without 2 offensive line starters. Going the final 27:51 without a point was startling. The No. 2 team in the country has more questions than answers after Saturday.
Arkansas — This isn’t 2020 all over again
Because if it were 2020 all over again, Arkansas would’ve found a way to lose that game. Instead, it found a way to win. Did some of that come via a questionable holding call on a 4th-and-1 in which Treylon Burks sold it to the SEC officiating crew? Absolutely.
Treylon Burks sold this holding call on Martin Emerson. Wow. pic.twitter.com/4fM7sX7TUP
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) November 6, 2021
MSU got robbed there, though the Hogs don’t usually get those borderline calls to bounce their way. And did MSU missing 3 field goals, including a potential game-tying kick at the end of regulation, help? No doubt. But Saturday was about Arkansas fighting back and showing that this wasn’t about to be a depth-fueled tailspin like 2020 was. The Hogs clinched bowl eligibility because that ground game got back to playing at an elite level, and Grant Morgan led a group that played a lot closer to its September self than its October self.
Any Arkansas fan would’ve gladly taken a 6-3 start with a Texas sweep. There’s a realistic chance at an 8-4 regular season after ending the 3-game SEC losing skid.
Auburn — That road revival has a limit
I praised Bo Nix’s play on the road all week and predicted an Auburn victory based on the way the Tigers played at LSU and at Arkansas. At A&M? Against that defense? That was a different beast. It was a beast that turned Nix back into the freshman version of himself. Auburn had its worst offensive showing since getting shut out by Alabama in the 2012 Iron Bowl.
Some of that was on Nix. The fumble that led to the scoop and score was the 1st touchdown scored by either team in the game. Nix wasn’t protective of the football when he needed to be. He also didn’t get a ton of help from his offensive line, and it felt like every time Tank Bigsby tried to bounce it to the outside, he was met with a pair of A&M defenders. The Aggies’ defense is stellar, so Saturday was by no means an embarrassing showing. It was, however, the end of Auburn’s last-ditch hope at a West crown.
Florida — Oh, so Dan Mullen’s team has given up on him
And don’t tell me that a flu outbreak was the difference in that game. It wasn’t. It was effort.
Like, actually showing up against a South Carolina team that had 79 scholarship players available and a 3rd-string quarterback who had never started an FBS game. Florida didn’t show up against a South Carolina team that hadn’t broken 23 points against FBS competition all year. It had that in the 1st half. Shoot, the Gamecocks hadn’t scored 31 points at home against FBS competition since October 2018. South Carolina hit 284 rushing yards even though it entered Saturday averaging 96.8 rushing yards in SEC play.
That was more than just a bad day at the office. That was a team that looked like it was checked out. Florida had zero sense of urgency on either side of the ball. Emory Jones still doesn’t have that 6th sense, and his pocket presence hurt. But really, this was about Todd Grantham’s defense taking a night off that it didn’t earn.
I questioned how Mullen would handle a tumultuous week. On a macro perspective, I questioned how he’d handle leading the 1st Florida team to enter November with 4 SEC losses since 2011. Not well, clearly. Mullen’s seat is scorching hot after that debacle.
Georgia — Kirby Smart does have a JT Daniels plan after all!
For the 1st time since September, JT Daniels played in a real tackle football game. Stunning. Daniels is indeed healthy after a lat injury sidelined him for most of October. He was healthy last week but didn’t play a snap against Florida. Against Mizzou, Daniels came in midway through the 3rd quarter. We saw the good when he led a touchdown drive and connected with Ladd McConkey on a little screen in the red zone. We also saw the bad when he missed Jermaine Burton on a slant that turned into a Mizzou interception.
Smart said Daniels was rusty going into Saturday. He was right. That play, on a day when Burton caught everything that Stetson Bennett threw his way, showed why it’s not as simple as just giving Daniels the offense at this point of the season. He still needs to get that rhythm back. Saturday was progress. Fortunately for UGA, it’ll have a couple more opportunities for some comfortable victories to get Daniels more reps. Next week against Tennessee? That’s not a given. For now, there shouldn’t be any quarterback controversy in Athens.
Kentucky — Those defensive woes didn’t stay in Starkville
But instead of struggling to make tackles in space and get off the field on 3rd down like last week, Kentucky’s secondary was gashed on 50-50 ball after 50-50 ball. How bad was Kentucky defensively? The Cats had more than 600 yards of offense and ran a school-record 99 plays … and lost. That’s almost unthinkable considering what this defense looked like a short few weeks ago. But in consecutive weeks, the Wildcats just got totally picked apart in the passing game.
It’s a shame for Mark Stoops that his team has seemingly lost its defensive edge. Any conversation about a New Year’s 6 Bowl ended Saturday night in Lexington, where Kentucky had been perfect on the season. From the 1st play that went for a 75-yard Tennessee touchdown until the bitter, failed 4th-down conversion at the end, Saturday was anything but perfect.
LSU — There’s still some fight in the Bayou Bengals
What a performance that was. LSU nearly pulled off the upset as a 28-point road underdog. Never mind that LSU’s starting secondary spent Saturday riding scooters. Alabama had gone 34 consecutive games scoring at least 30 points, and that came to an end. Ed Orgeron brought out all the tricks, including a fake punt jump pass for the AGES.
LSU with the fake punt and jump pass 👀
— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) November 6, 2021
Wild. Wild it was that LSU held the Tide to just 6 rushing yards. That’s your most stunning stat of the day. For a group that many assumed would lack motivation, the Tigers played like they had nothing to lose. Ty Davis-Price nearly ripped off a go-ahead touchdown on 4th and 1 down 20-14. I mean, LSU probably wins that game if not for Will Anderson Jr. harassing Max Johnson.
Saturday felt like a vintage interim Orgeron game. Even without the win, LSU showed that it still has plenty left to play for in what felt like a lost season. It’s one thing to do it against a struggling Florida team. Doing it against Alabama? That was the most impressive showing of the year for LSU.
Mizzou — The QB situation after Connor Bazelak really is a 2-QB system
Tyler Macon got the start, and with his legs, he actually looked the part. Not many humans can say they forced Nakobe Dean to miss a tackle. Macon is now in that exclusive club. He also rotated in with Brady Cook, who showed some wheels himself. Unfortunately, wheels against the Georgia defense don’t guarantee much. They definitely don’t guarantee touchdowns, which seemed like a far-off possibility until Eli Drinkwitz called a timeout in the closing seconds for 1 last attempt inside the Georgia 5-yard line.
(For what it’s worth, I don’t have a problem if any team does that. Scoring points is hard enough to do against Georgia’s defense. I’d rather a team do that than kick morale-victory field goals like Drinkwitz did earlier in the 2nd half.)
Against mortal competition, Bazelak’s absence could be felt. We’ll wait and see what his status is after going down hard in the Vandy win. Whatever the case, Mizzou turning into a 2-quarterback, run-heavy team without Bazelak seems likely.
MSU — YOU could be the next kicker for MSU
Because Mike Leach announced that MSU is hosting open tryouts after going 0-for-3 on Saturday, including a missed kick that would’ve tied it at the end of regulation.
Mike Leach’s full comment on the kicking game (0-3 on FGs): “There’s an open tryout on our campus for kickers. Anybody who wants to walk on and kick at Mississippi State, we’ll hold a tryout anytime you can get over there to our building providing you’re cleared by the NCAA.”
— Theo DeRosa (@Theo_DeRosa) November 7, 2021
Yikes. MSU missed from 23, 46 and 40 yards. That won’t get it done on the road in the SEC West. Usually, throwing for 417 yards and 4 touchdowns is supposed to get it done. Even though Grant Morgan intercepted Will Rogers, Rogers really picked it up in the 2nd half. That was a winnable game.
On the bright side for MSU? The offense really does look like it found its groove. That’s an experienced, well-coached Arkansas defense that was on its heels for much of that 2nd half. If not for that borderline-at-best holding call on Martin Emerson on that 4th and 1, Arkansas doesn’t score that go-ahead touchdown in the final minute. MSU’s weird, roller-coaster season hit another strange turn on Saturday.
Ole Miss — That was a (mostly) solid bounceback showing from DJ Durkin’s defense
Against Malik Willis, Ole Miss played a nearly perfect 1st half defensively. That group sacked Willis 7 times in the 1st half alone, which was already its season high. Sam Williams, until he went down in the 4th quarter, was un-blockable. Chance Campbell proved that he’s dominant when it comes to spying quarterbacks.
But in fitting Ole Miss fashion, that didn’t last the entire game after a 1st-half shutout. Willis and the Liberty ground game took over in the 3rd quarter and really made it a ballgame. But Willis made some poor decisions in the red zone that prevented it from being a total collapse. On the one hand, you’ll take a 14-point showing with 3 interceptions against an offense with a 1st-round quarterback prospect who entered averaging 37 points. On the other hand, allowing nearly 300 rushing yards to a non-Power 5 team? Not great.
Lane Kiffin said it was really just 2 bad drives for the Ole Miss defense. I suppose with how bad 2020 was defensively, he’ll take that.
South Carolina — Yes, the Gamecocks are taking shape in the Shane Beamer era
It took 2 months into his first season, but Beamer finally found the perfect formula to dial up a convincing SEC win. It was equal parts Florida freefall mixed with some post-bye week energy in the trenches and topped with a little Jason Brown addition.
Against a Florida team that was leading the SEC in rushing and was 1st in FBS in yards per carry, the Gamecocks allowed 82 yards on the ground. Of course, that was only useful if South Carolina could establish a ground game of its own. That happened. Big time. ZaQuandre White and Kevin Harris both went off. Josh Vann had that connection with Brown, and he also took advantage of some awful Florida coverage.
All in all, it was beyond anything South Carolina fans could’ve hoped for after a game against A&M when it was held to 15 yards in the first 3 quarters. Saturday night was a long time coming for Beamer. He said that he wanted to give guys a mental break by shortening practice, but they objected and actually wanted to practice more. There’s no denying which team looked totally bought into its head coach on Saturday night in Columbia.
Tennessee — The Vols are the No. 2 team in the East
That was the Vols’ first top-20 road win since 2006 against Georgia. That was 31 consecutive losses in those games. Yeah. Go figure that Tennessee did that on a night when its defense was on the field for a whopping 99 plays. It didn’t matter. The Vols still found a way to get the stop they needed late.
Of course, that couldn’t have happened without Hendon Hooker, who was unfazed by frigid temperatures in Lexington. He had a career high in passing yards (316) and touchdown passes (4). The guy averaged 15.8 yards per attempt against one of the league’s better defenses on the road. And it didn’t matter that Tiyon Evans went down. Hooker was in total command of the offense at every turn. That’s why Tennessee is now worthy of being the No. 2 team in the East.
How Joe Milton began the season as the starter, we’ll never know.
Texas A&M — This defense is actually just now reaching its potential
That was the fewest points allowed vs. an AP Top 15 team since 1957. Mercy. Against a confident Auburn offense, Mike Elko’s defense was everywhere. Micheal Clemons had the game-changing scoop and score, which happened because Jayden Peevy hurried Nix. It felt like A&M’s defensive line forced Nix out of his comfort zone and back into the freshman version of himself. Edgerrin Cooper was phenomenal blowing up plays in space, Tyree Johnson humiliated Auburn’s tackles all afternoon and Antonio Johnson continued his All-SEC season by making his presence felt in slowing the Auburn ground game.
This is a special group. Elko said that the defense has really been playing well ever since falling behind 17-0 against Arkansas. He’s right. The Aggies have allowed only 17 points per game in the last 5 contests, all against SEC competition. It was fitting that the defense had the only touchdown in the game.
A&M’s defense ain’t quite Georgia’s, but it’s a championship-level group.