1 thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 13
Ah, Cake Week.
That’s right. “Cake Week” is a much better way to phrase it than “Cupcake Week.” Nobody likes cupcakes more than cake. SEC teams love having their easy Week 13 matchups before rivalry week because like when you eat cake in the office, it breaks up the grind of the workday.
Besides, cake is a true celebration, which is usually what SEC teams do after paying some FCS school a million bucks to show up and take an “L.” Cupcakes are messier and honestly, not as satisfying as cake.
But you didn’t come here for a lecture on why cake is a more appropriate Week 13 analogy than cupcakes.
Here’s what I learned from every (active) SEC team during Cake Week:
Alabama — The offensive system is still darn good
It’s always good when you can get the ball to DeVonta Smith on a swing pass and watch him outrun 5 defenders on the short side of the field for a long touchdown. Solid work, Mac Jones. I say that tongue-in-cheek because while I do think that Alabama’s receivers are a human cheat code, Steve Sarkisian doesn’t get enough credit for the system that’s in place. Those guys block for each other, they don’t mail in their routes and they are always a big play waiting to happen.
Does that guarantee that Jones will set the world on fire against Auburn? No, but Saturday was a reminder that without Tua Tagovailoa, there are still things Alabama can do that other defenses just can’t defend. If Jones can stretch the field with halfway decent accuracy, this offense is still capable of putting up plenty of points against elite defenses.
Arkansas — The constant quarterback shuffling isn’t just a Chad Morris deal
Arkansas played 3 quarterbacks in a blowout loss against LSU, and K.J. Jefferson got the majority of the snaps. He was pulled when the Tigers went up 42-6, which in my opinion, is still not the right move. There was zero chance that Arkansas was going to come back and win that game, so why not try and get the quarterback of the future — pending the coaching change — some more reps? I don’t care if he struggles down the stretch. I’m more focused on a kid in his first career start getting all the run possible. But hey, I guess we’ll see how that rotation looks against a suddenly winnable game against Mizzou to end the interim period.
Auburn — You can throw the ball in the rain
Don’t tell Georgia that, though.
(I know that Samford and Texas A&M are vastly different defenses. It’s just a joke, Georgia fans.)
Gus Malzahn continued to let Bo Nix throw the ball, and in some sloppy conditions, it proved to be successful. It helps when you have someone like Boobie Whitlow, who can stop and make a spin move on a dime … twice. Auburn throwing for 251 yards in those conditions was a victory even though Nix wasn’t as efficient as Malzahn probably hoped. And to be fair, roughly 40% of those passing yards came after Nix’s day was finished. Still, imagine if the passing game was held to something like 100 yards against an FCS squad. The boo birds would’ve been out in full force.
Georgia — Lawrence Cager’s health issue isn’t going away
Cager missed his second game of the year, but he’s been banged up for far more than just 2 games. Between the rib and shoulder injuries he suffered this season, it seems like Georgia’s top receiver isn’t going to be at 100% anytime soon. It showed against A&M. It was more of the same lack of flow from the passing offense. Cager’s absence was magnified again, and once again, Georgia had to grind out a hard-fought home win against an unranked team.
The question now is whether Cager is going to be healthy enough where he can have a Florida-type game at any point down the stretch. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kirby Smart sat the Miami (FL) grad transfer against Georgia Tech in hopes of having him right for the SEC Championship.
Kentucky — Mark Stoops isn’t going anywhere, except to another bowl
Just before Kentucky’s bowl-clinching win, we saw reports that Stoops talked to Florida State but that he took his name out of the running for the vacancy. The former FSU defensive coordinator even said after the game that Kentucky is where he’s going to be. Talk about 2 huge victories for the Cats. Keeping Stoops from leaving for a job like that is a major, major relief for the Cats, who have now clinched a postseason berth for the fourth straight season. Kentucky still has a realistic chance to win 8 games for the second consecutive season, which hasn’t happened since 2007.
LSU — Ed Orgeron has a different level of confidence right now
Man, not celebrating a win over Arkansas because “they haven’t beaten anyone in a long time” is some kind of postgame chirp. This is coming from the same coach who a few weeks ago all but guaranteed more victories at Alabama. That’s how good Orgeron is feeling these days. And really, can you blame him? He’s going to his first SEC Championship, his team is the national title favorite (depending on who you ask) and he’s got the offense that’s captivating the college football world. Life is good, and life will be even better for him if his team avenges last year’s 7-overtime Texas A&M loss.
Mississippi State — Kylin Hill can break away
I haven’t questioned Hill’s ability to succeed in Joe Moorhead’s offense, but I’ve questioned Hill’s breakaway speed. Part of that was because he’s dealt with his fair share of lower body injuries the last couple years. But on Saturday, we saw a little gadget play that resulted in Hill catching a Tommy Stevens pass and taking the distance. In the first 2 months of the season, the prolific Hill was still searching for his first play of 40-plus yards. He’s since rattled off a 62-yard run and an 88-yard catch.
Let’s see if Hill has enough gas in the tank left for the quick turnaround with the Egg Bowl on Thursday.
Missouri — That’s the sound of being passed up by the majority of the SEC East
Perhaps the more appropriate sound effect to illustrate that would be a whoopee cushion slowly deflating. Mizzou did something that’s extremely difficult in such a short period of time. That is, go from looking capable of giving Florida and Georgia a run for their money atop the SEC East to getting beat by the likes of Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Tennessee. The lack of mobility for Kelly Bryant certainly hurts, but Barry Odom’s defense allowing Jarrett Guarantano to have that massive of a day is the more troubling issue. Now, Mizzou gets to play for a bowl berth that it may or may not be eligible for. Of course.
Tennessee — Jarrett Guarantano is even tougher than I thought
This is something you should never hear from a college kid.
“There were so many guys that were there for me throughout the death threats, the mean messages to the sister,” Guarantano said after the game. “They were all there for me and it really meant a lot. There were some hectic times for me and they were there for me every step on the way.”
And how did Guarantano respond? By delivering a career day to clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since he’s been at Tennessee. You know what? Good for him. There have been probably a half dozen opportunities in which he could’ve bailed on that program. New coaching staff? Another new coordinator? Getting benched? Getting sacked again? Losing to a pair of non-Power 5 teams to start the year? And yet, Guarantano was still standing after Saturday’s win against Mizzou. Don’t tell me bowl games don’t mean anything.
Texas A&M — The defensive turnaround wasn’t a bottom-feeder mirage
I went into Saturday’s matchup in Athens thinking that the Aggies showed major progress on defense the last month, but wondering how well that would translate against a true smash-mouth offense like Georgia. As it turned out, the Aggies fared pretty well. Holding Georgia under 20 points on the road like that was certainly more impressive than anything that Mike Elko’s defense did in the first half of the year. Who knows how we’d be talking about the Aggie defense had that offensive pass interference on George Pickens been called.
Will A&M contain LSU for 60 minutes? Doubtful. But after seeing more quality play on that side of the ball, this could be a trickier test than some are expecting.
Vanderbilt — Derek Mason can breathe a sigh of relief
Not only can Mason breathe easy knowing that his job is safe, but for the first time against a nonconference foe this year, his team looked like an SEC squad for 60 minutes. Crazy concept, right? Sure, it was an FCS squad and roughly 15 people were there, but imagine the alternative. That is, Mason didn’t get the vote of confidence and Vandy was pushed around by an FCS squad. Life can always be worse. Vandy has done a good job reminding us of that this year.