1 thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 11
There were a ton of questions heading into Week 11.
Would Tennessee’s offense have the right formula to push Georgia’s immortal defense? Would Matt Corral have perhaps his finest moment against a surging Texas A&M defense? And could teams like LSU, Mizzou and South Carolina win games that were immensely important for their respective paths to the postseason?
We’ve got our answers to all of those questions and more. That’s the beauty if playing football games and actually acknowledging that they happened.
(Looking at you, selection committee.)
Here’s 1 thing I learned from every SEC team in Week 11 of 2021:
Alabama — Brian Robinson Jr. is fine
Because running for 18 yards on 13 carries against a team with half of its defensive starters out certainly can make a guy wonder. Yes, I know that there were offensive line issues galore. Still, that was a rough showing for a guy who had been so good after contact. Against New Mexico State? It was a much different story. We saw Robinson bust loose for a 63-yard score. In all, he had 14 touches for 135 yards and a pair of scores. He had big running lanes, which was expected against a 1-win New Mexico State squad.
Still, it was good to see the balance — he showed that on a nice little dump-off pass — and the explosion that we saw throughout the 1st half of the season. If Alabama is indeed going to make a legit Playoff push, it needs No. 4 to be right, especially after Roydell Williams went down on Saturday. Remember, Jase McClellan is already out for the year. Trey Sanders hasn’t really been asked to get meaningful snaps in his career. Getting No. 4 at his best is key.
Arkansas — The Hogs can find ways to win without the ground game
Credit LSU. The Tigers mostly bottled up Arkansas. If you told Razorbacks fans that they’d go into Death Valley and run for 3.5 yards per carry, they would’ve packed their bags and gone home. If you would’ve added to that the fact that Treylon Burks had only 4 catches for 16 yards, they would’ve assumed that it was the 6th consecutive loss to LSU without much thought. But as Sam Pittman’s team did last week against MSU, it found a way.
It found a way because Barry Odom’s defense frustrated a true freshman quarterback. Myles Slusher made a ridiculous diving interception, and Montaric Brown capitalized in Garrett Nussmeier’s mistake in the end zone in overtime. It also helped that KJ Jefferson made one of the better plays by a quarterback all year to somehow escape 2 pass rushers, scramble and find a wide-open Dominique Johnson for Arkansas’ lone offensive touchdown of the night. For the 2nd consecutive week, Arkansas was on the right side of a game-ending field goal.
Pittman’s team is figuring out ways to win close games, which it couldn’t do last year. Can that be the case next week against Alabama, too? Hey, never rule anything out in 2021.
Auburn — 28-3 is still the most dangerous lead in football
We can make jokes because the Braves won a title, right? No? Okay, moving along.
(I also realize that Auburn was 63-0 when leading by 25-plus points since 2004.)
A couple of things on that. Was that a bogus targeting call on T.D. Moultry? Yes, and it absolutely felt like a back-breaking play for Auburn when MSU’s momentum was seemingly gone after consecutive blitzes by Derek Mason got home. It appeared to be a football play, and it wasn’t called as such. That’s brutal. We know MSU had kicking issues, and in an 8-point game, you can’t help but wonder what could’ve played out down the stretch.
But come on. You’re up 28-3 at home. You have to find a way to stop the bleeding. Mason was content to stay in drop-8 coverage for most of the game until it was too late. The problem? The pass rush wasn’t getting home, and Will Rogers absolutely picked Auburn apart. He was phenomenal. Auburn stopped getting the big throwing windows because Zach Arnett adjusted. Bo Nix getting his leg rolled up on didn’t help, either. He wasn’t the same after that happened when Auburn actually led, 28-23.
I don’t think you can chalk that up entirely to Owen Pappoe’s absence, either. But it would’ve helped to have a leader on defense to get a big-time stop, which Auburn couldn’t buy. Life changes quickly in the SEC West when you don’t show up for 60 minutes.
Florida — That horrendous defense didn’t go away with Todd Grantham
Woof. Where should we start?
How about the fact that Florida allowed more points in a half (42) to anyone in program history … and it came against a 4-5 FCS team? Or what about the fact that the Gators just tied the record for most points allowed by a Power 5 team (52) against an FCS opponent?
Sheesh. It was that bad. At least defensively. Yes, Florida won the game with a much better defensive showing in the 2nd half (that’s not saying much), and Emory Jones set Florida’s single-game record with 550 yards. That’s the positive. But boy, the negative was unbelievably negative. Florida fans were booing just 5 minutes into the game after Samford marched right down the field and scored on the opening drive. Little did they know that was the first of 7 touchdowns on the day. There was clearly a lack of motivation to tackle last week. Against Samford, that didn’t really fade.
Samford had guys running free all afternoon. That Florida defense is unrecognizable compared to the one that contained Alabama.
Georgia — Tennessee’s formula to beat UGA might’ve been unique, but it wasn’t magical
I mean, the Vols were 3-touchdown underdogs. It wasn’t like we were expecting Tennessee to beat UGA. The Vols haven’t beaten a top-10 team in 15 years. Did we really think Georgia would be the team to end that streak? No, but there was at least some intrigue about the Vols stretching UGA vertically and seeing what a mobile quarterback could do with tempo. Well, Hendon Hooker was on the field for 1 touchdown drive … and it happened on the opening drive.
Sure, the box score will say that UGA had its worst defensive showing of the year in points allowed (17). Kudos to Tennessee. But even with the UGA defensive line dealing with the flu, Tennessee’s tempo didn’t provide the answer to the question everyone wanted to know. As in, can this defense actually be tested by a group that can stretch the field? Kelee Ringo was flagged for pass interference, and Derion Kendrick wasn’t perfect, but it was still a pretty convincing performance from the secondary.
Kentucky — It was Vandy, but the defense got back on track a bit
Yeah, I’m not saying it was some lights-out effort. It was Vandy. Kentucky’s secondary should’ve been licking its chops to face that Vandy passing game. Ken Seals had a horrendous pick-6 to Jalen Geiger, which ultimately led to Vandy switching to Mike Wright at quarterback. Wright was a much more effective player, and his mobility gave the Cats some problems. But after getting completely torched by MSU and Tennessee, Mark Stoops’ defense held Vandy to 266 yards. It wasn’t on its heels with short fields after turnovers, either. That’s a win.
Saturday’s defensive performance stopped the bleeding at 3 consecutive losses. It also clinched Kentucky’s 2nd winning season in SEC play since the Jimmy Carter administration. There’s still a perfectly realistic chance for Kentucky to win out and get to 10 wins. That would be nothing to scoff at.
LSU — So THAT was the plan for the quarterback situation
I thought we’d see Nussmeier. I didn’t think we’d see him so early, nor did I think we’d see such a quick hook on Max Johnson. Nussmeier came in and escaped pressure miraculously on a touchdown to Jake Bech. It was a ridiculous throw and catch. The problem? That’s when the offense halted. Ty Davis-Price didn’t really get going until late, and there wasn’t enough pressure on the Arkansas secondary. Nussmeier had 2 costly picks, the 2nd of which came in the end zone in overtime.
As much as we like to be able to say that Ed Orgeron has nothing to lose, it’s fair to wonder if Johnson could’ve gotten into a better rhythm and won that game. That didn’t happen, though. Instead, LSU wasted another solid defensive performance and lost to Arkansas for the 1st time in 6 years. The Tigers now need to win these final 2 games just to reach the postseason.
Mizzou — Is that … defense?
I’ve heard good things about the concept. Granted, I hadn’t really seen much of it in Columbia all year, but I was optimistic about its premise. The key play of the game was when Jason Brown spun right into a Mizzou sack, and it resulted in Trajan Jeffcoat scooping it up for 6. That’s the defense Steve Wilks wanted. His group was aggressive in forcing turnovers (3), and it actually had a nice response in the ground game for the 2nd consecutive week.
Even if you take away the sack numbers and just focus on the numbers from South Carolina’s backs, Mizzou held that trio to 104 yards on 30 carries. The longest run of the day was 21 yards, which was huge for a group that had been getting gashed for most of the season. Mizzou can now clinch bowl eligibility with a win against Florida or Arkansas. Considering how vulnerable Eli Drinkwitz’s team looked at times with the worst run defense in the country, that’s not a bad place to be.
MSU — Will Rogers has arrived
To be clear, that’s referring to him being a star. That, he is. The 2nd-year quarterback helped MSU:
- A) Score 40 consecutive points with a school-record 6 touchdown passes
- B) Set a school record for points against Auburn (43)
- C) Complete 24 of 26 passes in the 2nd half
- D) Pull off the biggest comeback in program history (25 points)
- E) All the above
It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”
The guy was in complete and total control.Mason insisted on not blitzing until it was too late, and Rogers did exactly what he couldn’t do last year. He carved Auburn up. There was no fazing him. On the touchdown that made it 36-28, he got to the line of scrimmage, recognized it was man coverage and told Jamire Calvin exactly what to do. Not surprisingly, it resulted in an MSU touchdown.
It was that kind of day for Rogers. It didn’t feel flukey, either. This wasn’t K.J. Costello lighting up an unprepared Bo Pelini defense. This was on the road against an Auburn defense that didn’t allow an offensive touchdown last week at Texas A&M. Rogers had a nearly perfect day, and he absolutely just moved into the All-SEC discussion.
Ole Miss — This defense can actually win a heavyweight fight
It’s one thing to contain an LSU offense with a lame duck coach. It’s another to beat an A&M team that had won 4 consecutive games. That was easily the most impressive defensive performance we’ve seen in the Lane Kiffin era. DJ Durkin’s defense played like it did against Louisville. Outside of a couple of nice runs from Devon Achane in the 2nd half, all 3 levels of that defense was on point.
Whether it was Chance Campbell blowing up Isaiah Spiller to force a safety (Sam Williams turned him inside) or Ashanti Cistrunk coming in and picking off Zach Calzada, Ole Miss was in the right place at the right time all night. There weren’t the big gashes in the ground game like we saw against Arkansas and Alabama. It was gap-disciplined football. The Rebels took Jalen Wydermyer away with bracket coverage in the red zone, they prevented Spiller from getting anything going, and, most importantly, they didn’t collapse when A&M stole the momentum back in the 3rd quarter.
On a night when Corral didn’t have his full arsenal, that was exactly what Ole Miss needed. That path to Atlanta might be gone, but that path to a top-10 finish is very much alive. What a huge opportunity that was for Kiffin with College GameDay in the house.
South Carolina — Handling success isn’t something Shane Beamer’s team has mastered
I mean, Beamer said after Saturday’s loss that he had too many guys who patted themselves on the back. That’s never a good sign. South Carolina was careless with the football, it had costly penalties and it had far too many missed tackles. The Gamecocks allowed 21 points off turnovers. That doesn’t win games on the road, even against a Mizzou team that had 1 win against a Power 5 team since Dec. 6, 2020 (shoutout to Chris “Bear” Fallica for that stat on College GameDay).
Jason Brown made some plays — when he escaped pressure and threw that DIME to Josh Vann, I thought he was having another moment — and the ground game got off to a nice start. But it was still a reminder that even after beating Florida, South Carolina has a long ways to go to truly be a consistent team in this league.
Tennessee — There is indeed still a ceiling for this offense
But you wouldn’t have thought so after that start. Mercy. The Vols, who averaged 15 points per 1st quarter, did something that nobody else had done against Georgia — that is, score a 1st-quarter touchdown AND take a lead into the 2nd. After that? Yikes. The next touchdown didn’t happen until Joe Milton came in during garbage time. Could the Vols have had a bit more balance with Tiyon Evans on the field? Sure. And did Hooker have a bit too much juice on his fastball? Absolutely.
But Saturday was a reminder that against an all-world defense like Georgia’s, running Josh Heupel’s offense can be a bit of a challenge. Tempo is great when it works, and it can torpedo things when those drives don’t go anywhere. We didn’t see Georgia leave receivers wide open like Alabama did. Tennessee made some plays, especially Cedric Tillman. But it still wasn’t enough. It was the first time Heupel failed to hit 14 points as a head coach. I’d say the Georgia defense was a more than worthy team to end that streak.
Texas A&M — Perhaps this offense was a bit of fool’s gold
Because A&M entered the game having gone 5 consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown. Credit Ole Miss’ defense for continuing that into the 2nd half on Saturday night. Achane, who needed more touches than the 12 he got, helped end a streak of 116 minutes and 45 seconds without an offensive touchdown dating back to the 3rd quarter against South Carolina. Calzada was, as he has been in basically every non-Alabama game, full of mistakes.
He had a pair of interceptions in the final minutes, including one that totally spiraled A&M’s momentum deep in its own territory after it had clawed back to make it 15-13. He sailed a pass to Demond Demas, and that was essentially the ballgame. Ole Miss gave A&M chances to hang around by virtue of its red zone struggles, but outside of a couple of drives in the 2nd half, A&M really didn’t do anything with it.
The Aggies spoiled a prime opportunity to keep those SEC West title hopes alive. The Tide clinch a trip to Atlanta with another win in either of these next 2 games. A&M’s chances weren’t great, but now, the path to a New Year’s 6 Bowl might be blocked by Ole Miss.
Vanderbilt — Two-way player Chris Pierce Jr.!
Okay, so it was not really a 2-way performance. Pierce was put out there to defend against a Kentucky Hail Mary at the end of the 1st half. But Pierce, on Senior Night, had an interception and a receiving touchdown. Rare. That’s a nice little combination for the stat sheet. Pierce was on the same page with Mike Wright, who replaced an ineffective Ken Seals. Unfortunately, that was Pierce’s 1st receiving touchdown with Wright as the signal-caller.
Unfortunately for Vandy, it needed about 6 more Pierces on the field. And it would’ve been nice if he could’ve also played linebacker and tackled Chris Rodriguez.