1 thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 7
I went into Saturday saying, Hey, 6 of these 7 SEC games are excellent.
Sorry, Vandy-South Carolina. No offense, but 2 teams battling for their 1st Power 5 victory didn’t exactly scream “must-see TV.”
As for the rest, yes. All of those other games had at least 1 ranked team, In all, 5 ranked SEC teams had road matchups, 4 of which were against unranked opponents.
So what did that mean? We were going to find out just how good the top half of the SEC was, or if there was perhaps less of a divide with road teams taking care of business.
Here’s 1 thing we learned from every team in Week 7 of the 2021 season:
Alabama — How does this team respond from a loss? In a word, ‘well’
It was a legitimate question worth asking considering we hadn’t seen Alabama suffer a loss in the first 6 games since 2015. Yeah, it’s still Nick Saban. It was still an entirely different team. In a hostile atmosphere, we saw Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr. totally take over. Both were unstoppable on their sides of the ball. There was no Texas A&M hangover.
Finally, the chunk plays in the passing game were there. The Tide came into the weekend ranked No. 12 in the SEC in plays of 30-plus yards. On Saturday night, John Metchie, Jameson Williams and Brian Robinson Jr. all had passing plays of 40-plus yards. Most of that yardage came after the catch, too. That was exactly what Alabama needed to see on the road for the 1st time. Seeing Anderson take over a game with his pass-rushing ability like he did as a true freshman was key, too.
Anybody hoping that this was going to be 2010 Alabama all over again was disappointed with Saturday night’s beatdown in Starkville.
Arkansas — Jalen Catalon was missed, and he’ll continue to be missed
From bad to worse, things got for Arkansas. To start out the day with news that the All-SEC safety was out was one thing. To then find out he was going to miss the rest of the season with shoulder surgery was a kick to the groin after that loss. And in terms of Saturday, yes, Catalon’s presence would’ve absolutely made a difference.
You knew it was going to be a rough day for Arkansas when Bo Nix got Myles Slusher to bite on that fake and go over the top for that long touchdown on Auburn’s first drive.
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) October 16, 2021
That’s killer. Demetris Robertson had the dagger touchdown over the top, as well. It was clear that Auburn wanted to attack Arkansas deep without Catalon in. Not having Catalon out there to blow up plays in the box was costly, too. The Razorbacks’ defense didn’t play as poorly as it did last week against Ole Miss, but it was in desperate need of arguably its most talented player. If the Hogs are going to avoid a 2020-like slide on defense, they need more help in the back end than what they got on Saturday without Catalon.
Auburn — Bo Nix’s road woes are gone
Kiss them goodbye. That’s coming from someone who said repeatedly in the preseason that Nix was still going to be a liability away from the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. Outside of that interception when Montaric Brown made a better play on the ball then his receiver deep down the left sideline, Nix was phenomenal. He attacked deep without the aforementioned Catalon, he stepped into throws downfield and he knew when to call his own number.
For the 2nd consecutive time in an SEC West road matchup, Nix delivered. He might not have had the viral play like he did against LSU, but that was the best version of Nix. Credit Auburn’s receivers for having a big bounce-back week, and credit Mike Bobo for dialing up an excellent game plan to confuse a desperate Arkansas defense. It was only fitting that Nix’s final play of the day was him busting through the middle of the Hogs defense for a score.
That matchup against Ole Miss in a couple of weeks now looks incredibly interesting.
Florida — Wait … so THAT’S the floor?
Nothing about Saturday suggested that LSU should’ve won that football game. LSU had 60 scholarship players available, with 6 starting defenders out coming off a blowout loss to Kentucky in which it couldn’t stop the run. So naturally, Florida’s run game should’ve dominated while LSU’s run game struggled.
Buddy, that’s why they play the games.
Where should we start? How about the fact that Todd Grantham’s run defense, which entered No. 26 in FBS, allowed the No. 127 run offense to rack up 323 (!) rushing yards. Tyrion Davis-Price had as many rushing yards on Saturday (287) as he had in the previous 6 games combined. How does that happen? Don’t chalk that one up to it being an early start in Baton Rouge, and while the 4 turnovers were horrendous by the Florida quarterbacks, don’t give the defense a pass by saying it had too many short fields.
Dan Mullen is now living in a world in which he lost 6 of his last 8 games to Power 5 competition, including 2 against historically bad LSU teams. Yikes. And in case you were wondering/forgot, Georgia is up next. The only question is whether Mullen actually sticks with Anthony Richardson, who replaced an ineffective Emory Jones. That’s about the only thing that Gators fans have to look forward to.
Georgia — Stetson Bennett IV has to be the guy
Man, 2021 is weird.
Even last week, I didn’t think I’d say that. But the more you watch Bennett, the more you realize that he’s executing Todd Monken’s offense in a way that he didn’t last year because he can stretch the field. Who cares if he isn’t being asked to throw the ball 40 times? This formula works. Just as he was last week against Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Bennett was on the money against one of the SEC’s best defenses. The Brock Bowers connection alone is worth the price of admission. How they completed this pass, I’ll never know:
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) October 16, 2021
That play was one of the reasons why I converted into a “Bennett as QB1” guy on Saturday. His chemistry with this UGA pass-catchers is at a different level. At this point, what do you really think you’ll see out of JT Daniels that you aren’t already seeing from Bennett? The efficiency is there. He came into Saturday with a QBR of 95.1 (out of 100), and then he went out and averaged 12.5 yards per attempt against a top-20 defense.
This team is responding with Bennett as the starter. That’s not to say Daniels would rock the boat, because if there’s any team with margin for error, it’s Georgia with its all-world defense. Still, though. I’m now all in on him being the 2021 version of Jake Coker.
Kentucky — This is absolutely a top-15 team
Personally, I wouldn’t drop Kentucky in my rankings. The Cats actually played well on both sides of the ball. Bennett made some remarkable throws, there were a couple of missed tackles forced by a dominant Georgia backfield, and offensively, Kentucky became the 1st team to score multiple touchdowns against Georgia. Are there moral victories? No, but if I’m a Kentucky fan, I’m encouraged.
We weren’t sure that Kentucky was going to be any different than Arkansas, which got run off the field when it traveled to Athens 2 weeks ago. Instead, Will Levis was incredibly accurate. Drops hurt, but Liam Coen’s scheme was there. There might not ever be anything Kentucky can do to run against a defensive line. Chris Rodriguez Jr. was fighting an uphill battle, and Coen recognized that early.
It’s a shame for Kentucky that UGA looks like one of the best teams we’ve seen in the sport in recent memory, because if it were just another year with a solid East team leading the way, this Kentucky team would be a legitimate contender to get to Atlanta. As it is, Kentucky has a team capable of getting to its 1st New Year’s 6 Bowl.
LSU — Why, hello, desperation game! Where were you last week?
LSU had no business staying on the field with Florida, other than it had nothing better to do at 11 a.m. on a mid-October Saturday. The Tigers were down to 60 available scholarships, with half a dozen defensive starters out. Kayshon Boutte wasn’t available, and the nation’s No. 127 rushing offense was facing the No. 26 run defense in the country. So blowout city, right?
The cosmic forces that always make LSU and Florida play in close games struck again. Davis-Price looked like Leonard Fournette, because why wouldn’t he? Go figure that Saturday was the day he’d break Fournette’s single-game LSU record. The LSU ground game that couldn’t create a running lane if its life depended on it suddenly looked like the most unstoppable force south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Why that took until LSU had its 3rd loss of the season, who knows. But that was exactly what Ed Orgeron needed to calm some of that hot seat discussion, at least for a week.
Mizzou — Whatever hope that there’d be some home mojo is gone
Jimbo Fisher said this week that Mizzou is “a very good football team” and “they play extremely well at home.” Um, yeah. About that. So far, Mizzou is 0-2 vs. Power 5 competition at home, having been outscored 97-38. Oh, and Mizzou’s last-ranked run defense allowed 285 yards on Saturday, though I guess that was an improvement after Tennessee went for 458 rushing yards a couple of weeks ago. It didn’t matter that A&M was coming off a physical, emotional victory, and it really hadn’t run the ball particularly well this year.
There’s just too much pressure on Connor Bazelak and Tyler Badie to put up 40 points on a weekly basis. It didn’t help Bazelak that he had a bad read on the 1st possession to give A&M a short field, which all but wiped away any possibility that the Aggies were hung over from the Alabama win. Mizzou’s defense has looked hung over all year. Arm tackles, massive running lanes and poor downfield angles continue to plague Eli Drinkwitz’s team.
There’s not much hope that Mizzou is going to turn things around, and it’s telling to see Drinkwitz basically admit that his team overachieved in 2020:
Some pretty candid comments from Drinkwitz after this game, admits last year’s team probably overachieved. “Maybe I got the fan base too excited. … But we can’t skip steps.”
— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) October 16, 2021
MSU — Zach Arnett’s defense isn’t ready to be elite
Nothing really worked. If Arnett blitzed, Bryce Young found a way to beat it. If Arnett dropped his group in coverage, Alabama’s receivers found a way to bust long plays. It was a frustrating showing for a group that had 2 weeks to prepare and perhaps just a glimmer of hope that Alabama might not be a world-beater. Well, the Bulldogs didn’t exactly strike while the iron was hot. Instead, they looked like they helped get Alabama back on track.
MSU might have a top-notch run defense, but you saw some of the busts at the 2nd level. That’s not good enough to beat an elite team like Alabama. We saw that cost MSU a win at home against LSU. The good news? Vandy and its last-ranked offense are on deck.
Ole Miss — Matt Corral is even tougher than you or I realized
So get this. You know how Corral is the guy tied for Bryce Young in the Heisman Trophy voting? Well, on Saturday night in a wild atmosphere — that’s an understatement — he was without his top 2 pass-catchers and his tight end, yet he picked up 426 yards in an Ole Miss victory. Wait. Let me back up.
Corral racked up 195 rushing yards on 30 carries, which was the most for ANY Ole Miss player since BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2007. Unreal. That dude took hits like a champ, and he did everything in his power to will Ole Miss to a win.
Matt Corral shenanigans pic.twitter.com/X97yhEKBMy
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) October 17, 2021
Even on a night in which he threw his 1st interception of the year, Corral had what felt like a Heisman performance. It’s early, but how can you not be amazed at what No. 2 in Oxford is doing?
South Carolina — Of COURSE it was gonna take Zeb Noland to save the day
So cliché. Everyone in the preseason expected South Carolina to trail in the final minute at home against Vandy, only to be saved by grad assistant Zeb Noland. Duh.
(Hopefully you sensed the sarcasm there.)
I’ll say this about Shane Beamer’s team. It didn’t throw in the towel when it seemed like everything was working in Vandy’s favor. Ball security, missed tackles, you name it. South Carolina did it. Beamer had the presence of mind to not send Luke Doty out there for a potential game-winning drive, and boy, was that a smart move. Credit JJ Enagbare for getting the strip sack to prevent any chance at a Vandy miracle.
But what does it say about South Carolina that it was even in that position? Going 50 minutes without a touchdown against Vandy was telling. There’s still no real identity, and that’s a problem. What would’ve been an even bigger problem? Not coming out of Saturday with a win. Beamer played it coy after Saturday when discussing his quarterback situation. Maybe Noland really does need to be the season-long starter after all.
Tennessee — Neyland can be so good … and so bad … all on the same night
Who throws a bottle of mustard? Honestly?
Lane Kiffin got hit with a golf ball in his 1st game back at Neyland Stadium as a head coach. The 20-minute delay was as bizarre as it gets. The Vols had to clear out their own band and dance team. That’s how nuts it was. And nuts, not in a good way. At least at the end. An unfriendly spot on 4th down turned what looked like a 2nd-to-none atmosphere into pure pandemonium. It was like something out of the 1970s. That type of thing isn’t supposed to happen anymore.
It’s a shame that the actions of some overshadowed what was a wild, entertaining night. It was the 1st sellout in 4 years. To end that way was a brutal look for a fan base that had plenty of reason to feel good entering the night. Not only did the Vols watch Joe Milton replace an injured Hendon Hooker only to run out of bounds to end Saturday night’s thriller, but they’re also about to be the subject of a whole lot of bad publicity. Not ideal.
Texas A&M — Bama hangover? Nah.
It wasn’t much of a secret that A&M had a pretty big last weekend. Like, the biggest win since the Johnny Manziel era. So how would the Aggies respond to that on the road against a reeling Mizzou team? As it turned out, pretty darn well. Jimbo Fisher warned his team about a trap game, and it delivered. It was 14-0 before you could even get a bag of popcorn, and with the way Mizzou struggled to defend the run, that was all she wrote.
Even though there were some massive running lanes to run through, it was nice to see Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane have the type of day that many assumed they’d have on a regular basis in 2021. Zach Calzada didn’t have to do a whole lot, but he did enough to avoid mistakes and let the A&M ground game do all the heavy lifting. Just like that, the Aggies weathered the storm after that 2-game skid.
Vanderbilt — Michael Wright has some juice!
With Ken Seals out with a hand injury, we got to see Wright get a full allotment of reps. Against a halfway decent South Carolina defense on the road, Wright was 1 defensive stop away from coming out with a win. Sure, his lone touchdown pass to Will Sheppard was the byproduct of a defensive back taking a bad gamble. Sheppard broke 1 tackle and he was gone. Still, though. Wright gave Vandy a chance.
This was the worst offense in FBS entering Saturday. In other words, no, I don’t think you can say Seals has a stranglehold on the starting job. Why not go with Wright? Instead of him just being a change-of-pace guy for a series here or there, he might be better suited to run the offense and at least present a mobile threat behind a porous offensive line … which fittingly let Vandy down 1 more time on that last-ditch effort. Devastating loss aside, I’d like to see more of Wright.