1 thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 8
Finally, in Week 8, we had conference games for everyone in the SEC without any byes. That meant every SEC team was in action, and better yet, they were all facing Power 5 teams.
That was supposed to be the part where I made a joke about Vanderbilt being a “Power 5 team,” but after what the Commodores did to Mizzou over the weekend, I can’t say that at all. That was certainly one of the things I learned from an odd week in the SEC.
Here’s one thing I learned about each SEC squad:
Alabama: The Alabama injury bug bit Tua Tagovailoa again
Last year, it felt like every game the Alabama quarterback played in the final month yielded at least one trip to the injury tent. Tagovailoa’s first trip there this year surely brought back some bad memories for Alabama fans. The good news? Tagovailoa told teammates that the high ankle sprain he suffered won’t keep him out of the LSU game. The bad news? There’s no guarantee that he returns to 100%, which might not be enough against that high-powered LSU offense. A team that has dealt with a rash of injuries dating to mid-August will have to deal with its most important one yet.
Arkansas: Even Chad Morris’ fake punts are embarrassing
I don’t know what was more embarrassing. The fact that Arkansas lost by 41 at home to Auburn or the fact that this happened:
BREAKING: Arkansas has been removed from the SEC after this fake punt attempt. pic.twitter.com/08ABUrfxMG
— The Fake ESPN (@TheFakeESPN) October 19, 2019
Uhhhhh, really? Apparently Arkansas worked on that for a couple of weeks. I really need video of watching that play work because I highly doubt it consisted of a Dr. Pepper Challenge chest pass. Good grief, Arkansas.
Auburn: The Boobie Whitlow-less ground game can still produce
It was only Arkansas, which allowed Lynn Bowden to run all over its defense last week, but the Auburn ground game looked plenty solid without Whitlow. I’m still somewhat skeptical of Kam Martin getting the touches needed in that offense, but he had that nice 52-yard run, and D.J. Williams reminded me a little of Kam Pettway. Without Whitlow, 8 Auburn players recorded carries in that game. It yielded nearly 300 rushing yards and fueled a 51-point effort, so I’m sure Gus Malzahn felt a bit of relief.
Florida: The Gators will head into The Cocktail Party as the better team
I definitely didn’t think I’d say that 2 months ago. Shoot, I didn’t think I’d say that 2 weeks ago. But here we are. Florida, once again, weathered the storm (literally) and dominated the 4th quarter against South Carolina. The Gators’ 21 4th-quarter points were their most against an SEC team since 2008. That was after a sloppy start that had the makings of South Carolina upsetting another top 10 team. But Kyle Trask didn’t panic, and the defense put the clamps on without Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga. It’s pretty simple. Florida is an easier team to trust than Georgia right now.
Georgia: Um, where are the offensive adjustments?
I hear you, Georgia fans. It was windy and rainy. The conditions were terrible. That’s still not an excuse to be sitting on a goose egg midway through the 3rd quarter at home against Kentucky. Coming off that dreadful offensive showing against South Carolina, James Coley’s offense looked like it still thought it could be predictable and move the ball. “Run-run-pass to a covered receiver” seems like the Georgia way these days. It’s brutal. I don’t blame Georgia fans for booing. They have a bye week to sort things out before they face one of the top defenses in the country in Florida and have to shake out of this offensive rut, which has mainly been about the passing game struggles.
Good luck with that.
Kentucky: The limitations of the Lynn Bowden QB experiment were clear as ever
Kentucky nearly went 60 minutes without a completed pass, which is a hard thing to do for a non-triple option team. Even in a near tropical storm. But we knew that while Bowden was electric against Arkansas, passing the ball against an elite defense was going to be an issue. That’s not his game. Unfortunately for Kentucky, falling behind 14-0 late in that game was a death sentence. It was a reminder that there are probably only a handful of SEC teams Kentucky could beat playing with Bowden at quarterback, and Georgia in Athens certainly wasn’t one of them.
LSU: The defense looks like it found its groove
My goodness, the Tigers are a different bunch when Grant Delpit and K’Lavon Chaisson are healthy. They fly to the football and just flat out punish people. In their last 85 minutes of football dating to the 10-minute mark of the 3rd quarter against Florida, LSU allowed just 13 points. Six of those came via a garbage time touchdown from Mississippi State in the final minute Saturday. LSU is finally starting to look like a Dave Aranda defense — pressure the quarterback and trust defensive backs to make big-time plays in 1-on-1 coverage. It’s a scary thing to watch. You know, just in case LSU couldn’t get any scarier.
Mississippi State: Joe Moorhead’s attitude has changed
In the offseason, I wrote that Moorhead was the coolest coach in the SEC. He always seemed relaxed and confident. He was a different version of himself after the LSU loss. This was as defensive as I’ve ever seen him:
Joe Moorhead’s opening statement was a very different Joe Moorhead.
Ton of emotion from the head coach following the 36-13 loss to #2 LSU.
— Tom Eble (@Tom_Eble) October 20, 2019
Perhaps a week of hearing about the Rutgers rumors got to him. Whatever the case is, Moorhead looks like someone who knows he’s losing fan support by the game. Maybe a rant like that will be what his team needs to get things rolling.
Mizzou: Barry Odom’s team falls apart when it leaves Columbia
What if I told you that Mizzou would have 2 losses this year heading into late-October and they’d be to … Wyoming and Vandy? Woof. The Tigers are a different team playing on the road. Period. Sure, being without Cale Garrett wasn’t ideal and the Albert Okwuegbunam injury hurt, but 14 points against that Vandy defense is a complete embarrassment. Kelly Bryant hinted at the idea that Mizzou underestimated Vandy. Nobody would argue with that, considering the team that just got its teeth kicked in by UNLV was able to turn it around against the Tigers. Oh, and it did it with a 3rd-string quarterback. Barry Odom’s tenure got a little more bizarre Saturday.
Ole Miss: The offensive identity isn’t solidified
I’m just gonna say it (again). The 2-quarterback thing, in my opinion, isn’t it. I know Matt Corral is a better passer than John Rhys Plumlee. But you know who moves the offense better? Plumlee. Corral and the offense sputtered down the stretch and dropped what was a very winnable game. Ole Miss could have worn A&M down with Plumlee in the ground game and had a better finish than 5 scoreless possessions to end the game. Now, unfortunately Matt Luke will need to not only win the Egg Bowl, but he’ll likely have to beat Auburn or LSU to save his job. Yikes.
South Carolina: Regardless of the outcome, South Carolina has grown significantly in 2 months
Nope. I didn’t think South Carolina would have 4th quarter leads against top 10 Georgia and top 10 Florida in consecutive weeks. I didn’t think that 2 months ago, and I didn’t think that 2 weeks ago. The Gamecocks struggled down the stretch, but if I’m a South Carolina fan, I’m more encouraged by these past 2 games than any I’ve been during the Will Muschamp era. That defensive line is special and despite what the scoreboard said, I thought the defense played well overall. Ryan Hilinski is showing signs of promise, albeit in flashes. South Carolina is suddenly looking much more capable of reaching a bowl game than it did a short time ago.
Tennessee: Jeremy Pruitt was a different kind of fired up
The dude was running on the sidelines on big plays and grabbing face masks like his job was on the line. OK, he only grabbed one face mask, but Tennessee fans definitely saw a different kind of amped from Pruitt. Maybe it was the fact that he returned to his old stomping grounds and his team was coming off one of the best performances since he arrived in Knoxville. Whatever the case, Pruitt looked like he was trying to bring the energy for his team. Do I expect Pruitt to look like that every week? No, but it was interesting to see him bring that kind of intensity to the sidelines.
Texas A&M: Mike Elko’s defense will prevent free fall
That game was huge for A&M. Real huge. We know about the Aggies’ offensive limitations. They can’t run the ball. At least not in a traditional sense. With the offense struggling on the road, Buddy Johnson came up with a go-ahead scoop and score halfway through the 3rd quarter. It was a monumental shift when Ole Miss was threatening to take a 2-score lead. That would have been a completely insurmountable deficit for the struggling A&M offense to overcome. It was a bit of bend-don’t-break again from Elko’s defense, but that seems like it’ll need to be the formula with 3 very winnable games coming up.
Vanderbilt: Despite the UNLV debacle, Vandy hasn’t mailed it in
If you needed a reason to believe college football is such a random sport, look no further than what Vandy did to a red-hot Mizzou team Saturday. Coming off arguably the most embarrassing loss by a Power 5 program this year — don’t tell me a 24-point home loss to 1-win UNLV wasn’t that bad — Vandy turned up the defensive pressure and made it a long, dreadful afternoon for Kelly Bryant. The Commodores played vastly better than they have all year, and did so with a 3rd-string quarterback for much of it. Go figure. If that’s the effort we’re going to see from Vandy the rest of the way — and they do feel like they’re playing for Derek Mason’s job — they’ll be dangerous with 4 matchups vs. teams with losing records remaining.