1 thing I learned from every SEC team in Week 12
It was a weird week in college football. Yes, that was mainly because of the injury to Tua Tagovailoa.
It’s not every day that we watch one of the best college football players of the 21st century go down with a serious, career-threatening injury. And while Alabama said the expectation is for Tagovailoa to make a full recovery, there’s no guarantee that he plays at the level he did before he went down on Saturday.
While that was the dominant story on Saturday, it wasn’t the only big college football headline. Georgia knocked off its third top-15 foe while Jalen Hurts led a comeback for the ages. For the purposes of this column, we’ll stick with what happened within the SEC.
Here’s what I learned about every SEC team in Week 12:
Alabama — Tua Tagovailoa’s college career likely ended more abruptly than anyone could’ve thought
It’s strange. Last week, I wrote about Tagovailoa’s unique legacy at Alabama. I wrote it coming off the LSU loss because in the most likely sequence of events, Alabama’s Playoff streak would come to an end and we’d see Tagovailoa play his last game either in the Iron Bowl or in a non-Playoff New Year’s 6 Bowl.
Instead, we saw Tagovailoa suffer an awful, season-ending hip dislocation in the first half of a blowout win against Mississippi State. That just doesn’t feel right. Maybe that’s because his career essentially started with 2nd and 26. There was no sendoff that was going to live up to that, but man, it’s hard to imagine his historic college career ending like that. It seemed like we’d at least get one more game loaded with “that’s not even fair” plays. I guess we should just be grateful that we got to see as many of them as we did:
Auburn — It’s not just a home vs. road thing with Bo Nix
Entering Saturday, here were the home vs. road splits for the Auburn quarterback:
The hope for Auburn fans was that Nix was going to play like he has all year at home. Instead, the Tigers were without a point until 50 minutes into the game. And yeah, while it got close, overcoming a 21-0 deficit in a quarter against that Georgia defense was too tall of a task.
It seemed like Nix’s only positive pass plays before the fourth quarter came on slants to Seth Williams. His ability to improvise was limited against the speed of the Georgia defense, and his running lanes were limited. He did score the first rushing touchdown against the Georgia defense this year, but Nix’s long run of the day was just 9 yards. His day was inefficient and too little, too late.
Florida — The Gators did something they didn’t do last year at all
Well, multiple things. The first is beat Mizzou, which hadn’t been accomplished since 2016.
In Florida’s 6 SEC wins, it outscored its opponents by 22.3 points. Compare that to last year when Florida trailed in the fourth quarter in 5 of 6 games against SEC East games. This team’s makeup is drastically different when it comes to keeping the foot on the gas and not letting inferior competition hang around in the second half. That’s partially Kyle Trask, and partially having someone like Jon Greenard leading that loaded defense.
The Gators are a Florida State win away from:
- A) Clinching consecutive 10-win seasons for first time since Urban Meyer era
- B) Earning a New Year’s Bowl Bid
- C) Going undefeated vs. teams outside of current Playoff Top 4
- D) Going undefeated at home
- E) All the above
It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”
Georgia — This defense doesn’t care where it’s playing
I realize the fourth quarter wasn’t a perfect performance, though the defense did fittingly get the stop it needed to beat a third top-15 team. Georgia’s two true road games entering Saturday were at Vanderbilt in August and at Tennessee before the Vols figured things out. In other words, it was fair to at least wonder how the defense would travel in a true road atmosphere.
It’s safe to say it traveled well. A 50-minute shutout was full of plays blown up in the backfield and pass breakups down field. Guys like Tyler Clark, Travon Walker and Nolan Smith might not be national household names, but they’re starting to play like guys who should be. The fact that it took Georgia playing 590 minutes of football to allow a rushing touchdown this year is insane.
Is it time for Georgia-LSU yet?
Kentucky — This offensive line isn’t getting the love it should
That’s my fault. Cole Cubelic has been saying all year that Kentucky has one of the best offensive lines in the country, and it’s about time I start giving credit where credit is due. The Cats’ 1-dimensional offense (basically) ran for 401 yards. Let me repeat that. The Cats’ 1-dimensional offense that has a wide receiver playing quarterback, ran for 401 yards. Sure, it’s Vanderbilt, but my goodness.
The Lynn Bowden storyline has been a blast to watch, and he’d be the first to admit that he wouldn’t be talked about in the same light if not for this dominant offensive line. He’s got 723 rushing yards in 5 games as a starting quarterback. Let’s see if they can pave the way for an 8-win season.
LSU — The defense hasn’t turned the corner
When you’re the No. 1 team in the country, you’re criticized differently. It wasn’t difficult to criticize the LSU defense, which looked nothing like the group we’ve seen Dave Aranda coach up in years past. There were blown assignments and missed tackles galore. It didn’t feel like we were watching a group with preseason All-Americans. It felt like we were watching a Big 12 game between Oklahoma and Texas Tech. LSU let a true freshman run all over the place (more on him later).
That’s concerning because Ole Miss has a 1-dimensional offense. You know who else has a 1-dimensional, run-heavy offense? Georgia. Yes, Joe Burrow and the LSU offense is ridiculous. But what happens if and when LSU has to face top-5 teams to win an SEC and/or a national championship, and they make the Tigers’ explosive offense look somewhat average? That’s not a recipe LSU wants to follow. That’s why Burrow said it says a lot about where the program is at that they can gain 700 yards of offense and be disappointed.
Mississippi State — That home-field advantage can only do so much
Once upon a time, a top-5 team could go into Starkville and know it has 60 minutes to grind through. This year, that’s been a different story. In the Bulldogs’ 2 home games against top-5 teams (Alabama and LSU), they were outscored 76-20. That’s a tough look for a program that was pushing Alabama to the wire a short 2 years ago. Saturday wasn’t that at all. And Alabama was coming off the devastating loss to LSU while the Bulldogs had a full 2 weeks to prepare.
As intimidating as Starkville can be when the cowbells are rocking, it can’t make up for an offense that can’t sustain drives and a defense that shoots itself in the foot too much.
Ole Miss — John Rhys Plumlee is the truth
I’ve definitely been in the pro-Plumlee crowd this year. I’ve said I want to see him stay in and not see the switch to Matt Corral. Saturday was a perfect example why. All Plumlee did was become the first quarterback to run for 200 yards against the No. 1 team since Vince Young did so in the 2006 Rose Bowl (2005 season). That’s some elite company. Plumlee stayed in the game even though Ole Miss was trailing by multiple scores, and he rewarded the coaching staff by delivering some electric plays.
You can’t teach this:
Great play design by LSU here, John Rhys Plumlee out runs the LSU defense for the easy touchdown! pic.twitter.com/E3jzz9XwSs
— ™ (@CFBLive247) November 17, 2019
Plumlee has earned the right to be the guy in this offense. I wonder how much of the “Matt Luke is staying” decision was based on the belief that Plumlee and Rich Rodriguez seem to be hitting their stride together. Whatever the case, I’m here for as much of Plumlee as possible.
South Carolina — Stick a fork in the Gamecocks
Woof. How did this team handle success, you ask? After that Georgia win, the Gamecocks went 1-4 with the lone win coming against Vanderbilt at home. In those 4 losses, which included the home loss to Appalachian State, South Carolina was outscored by an average of 15.5 points. I realize they were banged up at the skill positions, but man, what an awful second half of the year it’s been for Will Muschamp’s team. Staff changes around him will likely be coming at season’s end, especially if Clemson trucks the bowl-ineligible Gamecocks as expected.
Texas A&M — The defense is playing at a different level now
Mike Elko’s group has been really solid since the fourth quarter of the Ole Miss game. Somewhat quietly, I might add. That’s why the Aggies are riding a 4-game win streak into this brutal 2-game stretch to close the regular season. It’s been a far superior pass defense than last year’s group, especially as of late. It helps when you’ve got guys like Justin Madubuike rushing the passer.
Nobody is talking about the A&M-LSU matchup because the division is all but locked up for the Tigers. But the A&M secondary ranks No. 27 against the pass and is No. 8 in the country with just 5.78 yards per attempt allowed. Ryan Hilinski was held to just 4.3 yards per attempt, and A&M shut down a Bryan Edwards-less group of South Carolna receivers.
Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t sleep on A&M hanging around with the big boys.
Vanderbilt — There’s no such thing as a “favorable SEC matchup”
Want some stats? I’ve got some stats.
Take out Georgia. Take out Florida and LSU, too. Let’s focus strictly on 5 games against the likes of Kentucky, Mizzou, Purdue, Ole Miss and South Carolina, none of whom have clinched a bowl berth yet. In those 5 winnable games alone, Vandy:
- A) Allowed an average of 240.6 rushing yards
- B) Allowed an average of 462.6 total yards
- C) Averaged 14.4 points
- D) Lost by at least 3 scores in all 4 losses
- E) All the above
Once again, it’s “E.” It’s always “E.”
That’s not including a trio of games vs. elite teams in which Vandy was outscored 128-30. That’s hard to fathom for a team that had legitimate bowl aspirations entering the year and returned as much talent as it ever had at the skill positions. Vandy is ranked third-worst among Power 5 teams defending the run, thanks in part to Kentucky’s 1-dimensional offense scampering for 400 yards on Saturday.
How/if Derek Mason’s team responds against ETSU at Tennessee could determine his future in Nashville.