1 thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 9
Why hello, November. Had no idea you’d be here so quickly.
I bet that’s how plenty of SEC teams felt during a bye-filled Week 9. We did, however, have 8 SEC teams in action, 6 of which were playing in pretty intriguing games.
Let’s dig into 1 thing I learned about each of them:
Auburn — There’s legit top-10 upside to Auburn in Year 1 of the Bryan Harsin era
How do I know that? Because we saw Auburn take control of the game against a top-10 team and look excellent once again. All around, that was everything Harsin could’ve hoped for. On offense, Bo Nix played an excellent game against an Ole Miss defense that was coming off its best 2-game stretch of the Lane Kiffin era. On top of that, Tank Bigsby looked every bit like the All-SEC running back he was pegged as coming into the season.
But think about that defense, with Owen Pappoe back, and how well it played against Ole Miss. That was the worst offensive game of the Kiffin era. I don’t think you can say that was just the byproduct of Matt Corral getting hurt, either. Ole Miss had one of the best rushing attacks in the country, and it was held to 157 yards. Derek Mason deserves a lot of credit for that. In all 4 SEC games Auburn has played this year, it has held its opponent below its season average. That’s why the Tigers are bowl-eligible heading into November. A New Year’s 6 berth is absolutely on the table.
Florida — Anthony Richardson wasn’t the difference
The redshirt freshman got his 1st career start on Saturday against Georgia’s all-world defense. Needless to say, the deck was stacked against him. The question was whether we were gonna see a few of those freakish moments. We really didn’t. When he completed passes, they went into big throwing windows … or they went for turnovers. When he fought for extra yardage with his legs, they also went for turnovers.
It was a rough day for the redshirt freshman, who got banged up in the middle of the 3rd quarter. It’s wild that he actually didn’t come out of the game for Emory Jones until that injury. Dan Mullen stuck with Richardson after the scoreless 1st half. Good. Not allowing him to get more reps back in September or perhaps start against LSU? Not so good. Richardson, if he’s healthy, is still the best chance for Florida.
But he made 2-3 mistakes that Jones easily could’ve made in that spot, and against the No. 1 team in the country, the QB decision didn’t make a difference in the final result.
Georgia — Nope, it’s still not JT Daniels time
Daniels was healthy. He didn’t play a snap. Stetson Bennett played even though he didn’t have a touchdown drive until there were 2 minutes left in the 1st half, and that “touchdown drive” was after he took over at the Florida 11-yard line because of Nolan Smith’s strip of Richardson. That was the story of Bennett’s day. Granted, he did have an absolute dime to Kearis Jackson:
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 30, 2021
Good, it was, to see Jackson make a play like that after he’d been slowly working his way back to his normal role at receiver. But more interesting was whether Kirby Smart was going to take a page out of Mullen’s playbook and play 2 quarterbacks. That didn’t happen. Bennett, to his credit, didn’t make back-breaking plays (his interceptions were basically punts). We wondered if Bennett was perhaps a bad 1st half away from getting the hook in favor of Daniels. If not for UGA’s wild final 2:16 of the 1st half, would we have seen Daniels? We’ll never know. For now, it appears Bennett’s time as QB1 isn’t going away anytime soon.
Kentucky — Remember those turnover woes? They’re back
The Cats started off with an unbeaten September, despite the fact that they were -9 in turnover margin in those 4 games. That was dead last in the country going into October. In 3 October games entering Saturday, Kentucky was +1 in turnover margin, which led one to believe that perhaps those ball security issues were a thing of the past. Yeah, about that.
Saturday was a turnover relapse against Mississippi State. Kentucky coughed the ball up 4 times. Two of those turnovers led to MSU touchdowns, which told the story of te Wildcats’ 31-17 loss. You can turn the ball over like that and beat bad teams like South Carolina and Mizzou. You cannot, however, turn the ball over like that and beat a team figuring things out like MSU, especially not in Starkville. Will Levis played what was easily his worst game of the season, Chris Rodriguez Jr. had a fumble on a bizarre night of limited usage and outside of Josh Ali’s punt return, there weren’t any chunk plays.
Levis made some poor decisions against Zach Arnett’s defense. That’s the type of back-to-earth game that Kentucky fans feared. It might’ve been enough to eliminate the path to a New Year’s 6 Bowl.
Mizzou — There is indeed a Power 5 win in that schedule!
Of course, even Vandy racked up 258 rushing yards against the Tigers’ defense. But hey, when you pick up 284 yourself, you can get away with that! Jokes aside, Mizzou’s 1st SEC win felt like a big win for Eli Drinkwitz to avoid some major skepticism about him being the guy long term. He owes Tyler Badie a steak or a house. It’s a shame that Badie plays for a team that started 0-4 against Power 5 competition. He’s having an All-SEC season.
Tyler Badie has had a day 31-254-2 & 8-40 pic.twitter.com/9F9uM3FxYc
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) October 30, 2021
The problem continues to be that Mizzou is entirely dependent on him for offense. There’s no way that Mizzou should’ve needed a Hail Mary touchdown to get into the break with a lead against Vandy. That’s a troubling sign in Year 2 for Drinkwitz. Besides just overhauling the defensive staff, which seems inevitable, Drinkwitz has to develop that passing game in a hurry. Connor Bazelak’s injury aside, that has to be addressed. Saturday was at least a feel-good afternoon in a season that has had too few of those.
MSU — Wait … is that balance from Mike Leach? It is!
So what if I told you that MSU and Kentucky would play in a tackle football game and one team would have 31-16 advantage in terms of running back carries and a 3-0 advantage in terms of rushing touchdowns? You’d assume that was Kentucky. You’d also assume that if there were a 3-0 rushing touchdown advantage, surely that would also be Kentucky. Wrong and wrong. Leach, AKA the guy who entered Saturday averaging the fewest rushing attempts per game of anyone in America, opted for a combined 31 carries to Jo’quavious Marks and Dillon Johnson.
Go figure that MSU’s most prolific rushing day (by Leach standards) coincided with Will Rogers setting the SEC single-game record for completion percentage (92.3). Rogers was in total control of the offense. He didn’t get greedy, he recognized when he had man coverage and he didn’t take those killer sacks. He helped MSU capitalize on those turnovers, and he was everything Leach could’ve hoped he’d be against one of the SEC’s best defenses. That’s a nice win for Leach, who is now apparently all about a balanced lifestyle.
Ole Miss — That offense just keeps getting more banged up
Specifically the play with Corral. He looked like he was in immense pain. The fact that he came back in with an ankle that looked toasted was a testament to his toughness. But it’s probably not the best sign when Corral’s top 2 pass-catchers are both walk-ons. Dontario Drummond was banged up in this one, and that was with Braylon Sanders and Jonathan Mingo already out.
I wondered if Ole Miss’ oddly early bye week was going to prove costly. That’s not to say Corral would’ve absolutely led a winning effort with a fully healthy team, because Auburn was excellent, especially on defense. Still, though. Corral doesn’t quite have the full arsenal, and the Ole Miss offense that was so fun in the 1st half of the season has had a bit of a reality check the last 3 weeks. It isn’t just plug and play. That was the fewest points scored during the Kiffin era. Ole Miss has some offensive questions to answer, which hasn’t happened often (or ever?) in the last 2 seasons.
Vanderbilt — It was Mizzou, but that rushing performance was encouraging
Without Ken Seals (again) and Rocko Griffin, Vandy had its best ground performance of the year. A 258-yard showing was the result of Mike Wright and Patrick Smith being the latest group to capitalize on Mizzou’s woefully bad run defense. Still, though. It actually gave Vandy a chance. Had the Commodores actually been able to defend the Hail Mary at halftime, who knows. Maybe they’re in more favorable running situations down the stretch instead of needing to rally from a 2-score deficit.
Vandy whiffed on 2 opportunities to pick up an SEC win with Mizzou and South Carolina both escaping. On the bright side, that was the best offensive performance against a Power 5 team since that weird game at Kentucky last year when the Commodores hit 35 points. Something tells me putting up 35 against Kentucky this year — that’s whom Vandy will face after a bye week — will be a different challenge.