1 thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 5 of 2020
Four games? Four?
Just 8 SEC teams were in action in Week 5, and yeah, it was weird. Still, though, it was better than nothing.
We had plenty of questions coming into the day. How would Auburn, LSU and Tennessee look with their backs against the wall? How would Kentucky fare after 2 dominant defensive showings?
Even with just 4 games, we got answers to all of these questions and more.
Here was the 1 thing I learned about every SEC team who played a game on Saturday:
Alabama — Even Alabama’s offense isn’t immune to 2020-like breaks
Jaylen Waddle’s season-ending injury is just gut-wrenching. That’s the case anytime someone so talented and fun to watch goes down, but Waddle is different. You can’t teach the things that he does. There’s not a more dangerous player with the ball in his hands in all of college football. That’s the first really major injury for this Alabama offense. Go figure that it happened in the same game that Tua Tagovailoa went down last year.
The good news for Alabama? Mac Jones just keeps balling. What he and Steve Sarkisian have working right now is at such a high level that even after losing an All-American like Waddle, there’s no reason to think Alabama won’t win the SEC. That’s the good news. Life got harder without Waddle, no doubt. But Jones is more than capable of leading this offense, which still has DeVonta Smith, John Metchie and Najee Harris.
If that’s the last we see of Waddle in college, well, that’d be a very 2020 development.
Auburn — Hey, Chad Morris DOES know that Tank Bigsby exists!
Entering Saturday, Tank Bigsby was averaging 12.5 carries and Bo Nix was averaging 35 pass attempts. That’s just baffling considering how good the former has been and how frustrating the latter has been. So against that porous Ole Miss defense, Morris finally turned that ratio around. Bigsby got a career-high 24 carries while Nix had 30 pass attempts.
“FINALLY,” said every Auburn fan ever.
Gus Malzahn promised that Auburn was going to be more physical and that it would rely on the ground game more. It had to. Getting a 47-30 run-pass split won’t work every week, but against that Ole Miss defense, that was an overwhelmingly obvious plan of attack. If Morris didn’t recognize that and this turned into another 40-pass day from Nix in a losing effort, that would’ve been grounds for losing play-calling duties. Bigsby is worth building an offense around. There’s no doubt that he’s the single most encouraging element of Auburn’s future.
Kentucky — Life is difficult for this offense when the defense isn’t forcing turnovers
Yuck. What a dud that was for the Cats’ offense after winning 2 consecutive games. Granted, forcing 10 turnovers in those 2 games had a lot to do with why Kentucky got back to 2-2. Saturday, against a better-than-they-get-credit-for Mizzou defense, the Wildcats’ offense was awful. Terry Wilson couldn’t get anything going, and Joey Gatewood wasn’t any better. What a rough game that was for Eddie Gran, who couldn’t dial up chunk plays.
Mizzou did exactly what Kentucky wanted to do. It won the turnover battle and it converted 3rd down after 3rd down. Get this. The Tigers ran 92 offensive plays compared to just 36 for Kentucky. Mizzou ran the ball 62 (!) times and had the ball for 43 minutes and 10 seconds. More importantly, they didn’t let the Cats feast off the turnovers that have fueled everything the last 2 weeks. Kentucky has been a tough team to figure out. One thing that seems obvious? This offense is frustratingly limited.
LSU — The LSU defense was capable of not putting a true freshman QB in an impossible spot
TJ Finley didn’t need a whole lot of defensive help, but it was encouraging for the Tigers not to need their true freshman starter to put up 50 to win. He just did that for fun. After the bye, LSU was significantly better on the defensive side than it was against Mizzou.
Let’s recap the first 3 games:
- 32 PPG allowed
- 494.7 yards allowed
- 380.7 passing yards allowed
- 47% 3rd-down conversions allowed
Those numbers would’ve been much worse if not for the Vandy game. Were there still a few busts? Yep. This group is far from a finished product. Ed Orgeron wasn’t happy to see South Carolina’s pass-catchers running with a bit too much room, especially in the first half. The good news is that LSU found itself an elite pass-rusher in BJ Ojulari, who had 3 sacks by himself. Derek Stingley Jr. also looked like his freshman self.
For what it’s worth, Myles Brennan should still be the guy (when healthy) after having more passing yards and passing touchdowns in his first 3 starts than any quarterback in LSU history. But that’s just my 2 cents.
Mizzou — Eli Drinkwitz isn’t stubborn; he’s smart
Drinkwitz’s system preaches tempo, spread tendencies and balance. But balance on Saturday wasn’t the path to winning. It was wearing down that Kentucky defense with the ground game. The Tigers ran the ball a whopping 62 times. Larry Rountree had a career-high 37 carries, which was the most of any SEC player this year. It didn’t matter that Mizzou didn’t have a run of 20 yards. Drinkwitz stuck with what was working.
Kentucky’s offense had no rhythm whatsoever. It was a throwback way to grind out a win, but that’s what the game plan called for. Drinkwitz didn’t give into getting receivers Damon Hazelton and Keke Chism back. And go figure that game plan came after Drinkwitz said they prepared to face 3 different teams on Saturday. Drinkwitz is winning me over, 1 week at a time.
Ole Miss — Lane Kiffin isn’t biting his tongue on matters of poor officiating
Why was that something I learned? Well, we hadn’t necessarily seen Kiffin’s team get a raw deal like the one it got on Saturday with the non-review after Auburn’s touched kick return. And how did Kiffin feel about that? He retweeted this:
If y’all want to just keep gifting Auburn wins, just say it. pic.twitter.com/LJ01avk5ZI
— Breck Jones (@BreckJones_) October 24, 2020
Kiffin has never necessarily cared about what’s saying politically correct. Still, coaches usually don’t retweet tweets blatantly criticizing SEC officiating. I’d say if there was ever a case, that was it.
After the game, Kiffin said he’s baffled as to why it wasn’t at least reviewed (via FootballScoop.com):
“I don’t know (why the play wasn’t reviewed). These guys stop everything in the world,” Kiffin told Ole Miss Radio Network postgame. “We have 100 stops throughout the game. They stop every scoring play. That’s really a scoring play, potentially.
“I don’t know why. I asked why on a critical play like that would you not stop? And they said, ‘Well, someone looked at it upstairs and said he didn’t touch it.’ It looked like from our vantage point he did touch it.”
I mean, is he wrong?
South Carolina — So much for that established defensive identity
It turns out that the Gamecocks weren’t defensive world-beaters after the Auburn win. It didn’t matter that Israel Mukuamu came back. He actually had a gift interception. Will Muschamp couldn’t dial up a game plan to slow down an LSU offense who had a true freshman in his first career start. That in itself was troubling. Even more troubling was the run defense woes. Surrendering 277 rushing yards was more troubling. That was an LSU ground game who really hadn’t done much of anything, and this South Carolina front 7 got pushed around.
Take away LSU’s kickoff return for a touchdown and Eli Ricks’ pick-6 and it was still 38 points and 541 yards allowed by the Gamecock defense. That’s not gonna cut it. The bye came at an ideal time after that showing.
Tennessee — Jeremy Pruitt believes in Jarrett Guarantano more than I do
There was no way that Guarantano was going to lead a winning effort on Saturday. There just wasn’t. Pruitt turning to Guarantano when he had players like Henry To’o To’o publicly lobbying for true freshman Harrison Bailey was, um, interesting. I thought for sure that we’d see a change. But instead, Pruitt went with the guy who has yet to even keep it close vs. Alabama, Florida or Georgia.
In fairness to Guarantano, he wasn’t totally terrible against Alabama. At least he didn’t have a turnover. When he gets in a rhythm, he makes that throw down the right sideline look easy. The problem is that Guarantano isn’t going to sustain that for 60 minutes. The Vols wanted to win that game by taking the ball out of his hands and running the ball. That didn’t happen. Shocker. Pruitt gave his team zero chance of winning the second he announced Guarantano would be his starter.