1 thing I learned from every SEC team in Week 5
Hurricane Ian didn’t stop us from having a fantastic Saturday in the SEC.
Granted, it did move South Carolina and Florida off their originally scheduled times, along with several others across the sport. Still, though, Saturday delivered a whole bunch of takeaways. We should’ve expected nothing less with 5 conference games on the slate.
Here’s what we learned:
Alabama — What life is like without Bryce Young
Well, ideally Alabama would never be without the Heisman Trophy winner, but on Saturday after Young went down with a shoulder injury, we saw Jalen Milroe step in. Milroe’s 77-yard run was exactly what the doctor ordered after Arkansas scored 23 consecutive points with Young on the sideline. Milroe’s athleticism is next level. He made Bumper Pool miss and turned a 3rd-and-long without any passing options into a 77-yard gain. Ultimately, that allowed Alabama to put the game away after a disastrous 3rd quarter in all phases. Well, a pair of long touchdown runs from the versatile Jahmyr Gibbs was a big part in that, too.
Nick Saban didn’t offer much of an update on Young, only that he had a sprained shoulder. Young was on the sideline with a helmet throughout the 2nd half, and he was practicing handoffs coming out of the break. That’s the good news. What we don’t know is if Young’s shoulder is going to be 100 percent heading into the meat of the season. So much of Alabama’s title hopes depend on the right arm of Young. The Alabama passing offense was nonexistent in the 2nd half without him. The 4th-quarter response was huge, but questions remain for a flawed but unbeaten Alabama team.
Arkansas — Myles Slusher’s return didn’t fix the pass defense
Last week, I wondered if Arkansas’ improvement against the pass was the byproduct of Slusher coming back from injury or if it was more about A&M’s inability to stretch the field. After seeing Slusher get torched on a pair of long passes in the 1st quarter of Alabama’s victory in Fayetteville, I think it’s fair to say it was the former. Slusher was put in tough spots by Barry Odom, but at the same time, that’s what the scheme calls for. It wasn’t like he was asked to defend an All-America receiver in press coverage with no over-the-top help.
That continues to be an issue for the Arkansas pass defense. Alabama entered Saturday with 1 passing play of 40 yards, and it had 3 such plays in the 1st quarter alone against Slusher and the Hogs’ secondary. They did a better job defending Milroe in the passing game, but he also underthrew Jermaine Burton on another play that should’ve been a long touchdown. The Hogs are going to be a liability on the back end until further notice.
Auburn — The Tigers are going to continue to find new ways to lose
Auburn was up 17-0 after putting up 200 yards of offense in the first 20 minutes. Yet, was anybody surprised to see the Tigers fall apart? That’s the problem. Even on a night when Robby Ashford did some fantastic things throwing the football — Koy Moore got the ball ripped from him on the interception late — Auburn still puked on its shoes in a new way. After taking its first 3-score lead since the season opener against FCS Mercer, Auburn’s possessions went:
- Missed FG
- Failed 4th down
It’s a tough look when one of those scoreless drives happened because you got cute and let your receiver attempt a red-zone pass that ended with an interception. That was when Auburn was knocking on the door down 21-17. Yuck. It spoiled an excellent passing performance from Ashford. He was dynamic off-script. The problem is that Auburn’s script is to find unique ways to blow games. Well, at least when teams don’t miss 26-yard field goals and/or fumble walk-off touchdowns into the end zone. By the way, Bryan Harsin’s team has been outscored 104-21 in its past 8 2nd halves against Power 5 competition.
Georgia — Kent State was no one-off
Because this Georgia team has flaws. Plenty of them. Kirby Smart’s team trailed by double digits in a game that it was favored to win by 4 touchdowns. A win is a win, which UGA shouldn’t take for granted. But still. That was a troubling sight on a few counts. The gashes in the run game were evident, both before and after Jalen Carter took a chop block to the leg (it wasn’t called). Credit Malaki Starks for tracking down Cody Schrader and preventing what would’ve been a back-breaking touchdown to drop UGA to a 3-score deficit. Also credit Stetson Bennett IV for staying poised and not forcing throws in the 2nd half, when UGA desperately needed him.
But there are a whole lot of better SEC teams who would’ve turned that into a Georgia loss. UGA was fortunate that the Mizzou passing game is a train wreck, and it probably helped that Mizzou lost its best offensive player (Dominic Lovett) and defensive player (Kris Abrams-Draine), both of whom were banged up and could’ve made a difference late. UGA is dealing with injuries of its own — Smart said afterward that the Bulldogs need to get the receivers healthy — and is clearly not at the level it started the season at. It’s time to adjust our expectations for the perceived cakewalk regular season.
Kentucky — Even when the Cats are a top-10 team, they aren’t immune to those all-too-familiar self-inflicted errors
If you didn’t know any better, you would’ve thought that was a pre-Mark Stoops Kentucky team with the way Saturday’s game at Ole Miss was squandered. Consider this:
UK would’ve moved into the top 5 with a W.
A) Gave away 5 points in the kicking game
B) Had a kickoff return TD if not for tripping on a teammate
C) Had 2 TOs in the final 4 minutes
D) Had a penalty negate a go-ahead TD
E) All the above
It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) October 1, 2022
That’s reality. Also reality is that despite all of those things going wrong, as well as Kentucky being banged up in the front 7, the Cats had a chance to beat a top-15 team on the road. It stiffened up against the run, allowing just 80 rushing yards in the final 3 quarters against one of the most potent ground games in America. UK also got some tough yards from Chris Rodriguez Jr. in his return from suspension. It was clear how different he was, especially on a day in which Kavosiey Smoke left early with an illness.
But yeah, that was a missed opportunity in every way. Kentucky would’ve been in the top 5 of the AP poll for the first time since the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. Instead, it’ll kick itself about that one for a while. A whole lot of BBN felt the flashbacks on Saturday.
LSU — Les Miles is long gone, but you’d never know it
Allow my guy Peter Burns to explain:
80 yards passing.
Gave up 337 yards passing
Jack Bech & Kayshon Boutte combine for 2 catches & 6 yards
And still won on the road.
The most Les Miles LSU win I’ve ever seen.
— Peter Burns (@PeterBurnsESPN) October 2, 2022
Yep. By the way, LSU got nearly half of those 80 passing yards on an uncovered wheel route to John Emery Jr. Go figure that the team down 3 scores on the road somehow didn’t need any signs of life in the passing game to come back and win. The turnovers were really the difference. The BJ Ojulari strip sack got the ball rolling, and stripping former LSU receiver Koy Moore the way Greg Brooks Jr. did late was the dagger.
Brian Kelly has far from a perfect football team. That much we know. But it continues to take these horrendous starts and rally back. Matt House totally took away the Auburn passing game after that start, and we saw LSU flip the script by getting in the face of Ashford and forcing him into some tough decisions. LSU had no idea how to win ugly these last 2 disappointing seasons. It’s clear that Kelly’s 1st team has the magic formula to do that.
Mizzou — Disappointing blown lead aside, Blake Baker is such an upgrade at defensive coordinator
He held Georgia without a touchdown for the first 49 minutes of that game. That’s darned impressive. It felt like Jaylon Carlies and Trajan Jeffcoat lived in the backfield, and a Mizzou secondary that was expected to be the strength of the defense looked the part for most of the night. The Abrams-Draine injury was costly — he got hurt on a Darnell Washington hurdle — but I came away being super impressed with the Mizzou defense.
It was hard to be super complimentary of the Mizzou defense for containing a listless Auburn offense, but Georgia is a different beast. Bennett’s poise was pivotal down the stretch, and Georgia made some tweaks in how it blocked the ground game to combat the pressure Mizzou’s front was generating. Yes, it was a giant missed opportunity for Eli Drinkwitz, and if there’s not that false start on the 1-yard line up 13-3, who knows? Maybe the Tigers close the door. Still, though. There were some encouraging defensive signs from Mizzou that suggest it won’t be a doormat in SEC play.
MSU — We need to talk about if the Bulldogs are No. 2 in the SEC West
I hear ya, Ole Miss fans. One team in the Magnolia State is unbeaten, and one is not. That’s why I only said we need to “talk” about it. Why? Because the Bulldogs flexed on A&M in all phases. Offense? Will Rogers was Will Rogers, and MSU even ran the ball for 144 yards. Defense? Max Johnson was harassed all day, and Zach Arnett’s group stymied A&M seemingly every time it got into the red zone. Special teams? MSU took a potential field-goal attempt to turn it into a 1-score game back the other way to make it 21-3.
The Bulldogs were the better team, and it wasn’t even close. Sure, the Ainias Smith absence was felt, but credit MSU for forcing Johnson into quick decisions and capitalizing on every turnover opportunity. Mike Leach’s squad is 1 bad 4th quarter away from being 5-0, with wins against LSU and A&M to start off SEC play. If you’re sleeping on the Bulldogs after that start, Saturday should’ve served as a wakeup call.
Ole Miss — This defense really is ready
Yes, I realize that if Will Levis waits another second for a receiver to get set, we’re talking about Ole Miss forking over that lead via a Dane Key touchdown in the final minute. But that defense absolutely stepped up. It forced 2 turnovers late in key spots to win that game. Yes, Kentucky had a backup right tackle in there because of a cramp to the starter. Still, though. Austin Keys, TJ Finley and the transfer Troy Brown all played monumental roles in pulling that game out.
This was exactly the type of low-scoring game that we wondered if Ole Miss could win in the early part of the Lane Kiffin era. On a day when the offense was all but bottled up after the 1st quarter, Ole Miss played with urgency on defense. Chris Partridge’s group held strong on the back end and didn’t allow that downfield passing attack to get going even though UK was 2nd in the country with 7 passing plays of 40 yards. It was an imperfect, but gritty showing from a group with a ton of preseason questions.
South Carolina — Xavier Legette is in a rough funk right now
I know, I know. South Carolina’s offense had a huge day, and picking out something like that feels like I’m being too negative after the Gamecocks put up a 50-burger. But Legette had 2 drops that were both intercepted. Spencer Rattler took the statistical setback, but it was Legette who caused them. Legette had the game-winning catch against Vanderbilt that sparked South Carolina’s late-season push. Unfortunately, the veteran has just 4 catches for 20 yards, none of which have gone for 10 yards. PFF has him graded dead last among qualified SEC receivers, and his passing snaps have diminished since the start of the season (he has 120 total offensive snaps through 5 games).
Legette’s best impact might be as a kickoff return specialist, because at this point of the season, the Gamecocks’ margin for error is too slim to have liabilities in the passing game.
Texas A&M — No Ainias Smith is bad news bears for the Aggies’ offense
As great as the Aggies felt for rallying back against Arkansas, losing Smith was the more significant long-term development than anything that happened in Arlington. The Aggies’ passing offense was a mess without Smith. Yeah, Moose Muhammad III stepped up, and Evan Stewart flashed some of that 5-star ability. But the problem was that there was no rhythm to the passing game. Too often, Johnson was throwing with pressure in his face, or when Haynes King was forced into action late, we saw him not be on the same page with Stewart, which led to another Emmanuel Forbes interception.
A&M’s margin for error is slim. It doesn’t have the firepower to overcome turnovers. As Billy Liucci pointed out, A&M was somehow outscored 7-3 on its 1st 4 trips to the red zone. That can’t ever happen, not with this offense and how limited it is. Contrary to what Jimbo Fisher said at halftime to Alyssa Lang, I didn’t think that the Aggies were moving the football that well with just 112 1st-half yards. They have major issues in the passing game that don’t figure to be solved by a date with Will Anderson Jr. and the Alabama defense.
Then again, that did the trick last year, right?