10 things I liked and didn't like from Week 8 in the SEC
It was a wild Week 8 all across college football, especially for a card-carrying Florida State alumnus like myself.
Now I know how Alabama fans felt two years ago to lose in such stunning fashion courtesy of some unpredictable chaos on special teams. At least the Crimson Tide lost to a quality team via the “Kick Six,” unlike my Seminoles giving one away to a Georgia Tech program coming off five consecutive losses.
There really wasn’t a marquee matchup in the SEC, as Texas A&M-Ole Miss was the only battle of ranked teams and didn’t deliver on the hype, but here is what I liked and didn’t like from the best conference in America.
What I liked
1. Sean White is a good player stuck in the wrong offense
When Auburn’s offense was truly terrifying two seasons ago, QB Nick Marshall ran plays at a dizzying pace and was just as much of a threat with his legs as his arm.
That’s not the case with White, who is only under center because Jeremy Johnson is arguably the biggest disappointment in college football this season — he went from dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate to the bench faster than you can scream “War Eagle!” The read-option component of coach Gus Malzahn’s scheme simply isn’t the same with a quarterback like White at the controls, as defenders can more closely defend the belly run and jet sweep since he’s no threat to keep it.
Nevertheless, White nearly pulled victory from the jaws of defeat when Malzahn changed things up to a more traditional passing attack, this despite Auburn’s receivers dropping catchable passes all afternoon.
White finished 19 of 32 for 254 yards without a touchdown — that’s now four consecutive games for the Tigers with no TD tosses — or an interception, although he was much more impressive than those numbers indicate. Credit WR Ricardo Louis for making two clutch grabs on the tying drive late in the fourth quarter, but he failed to show up in the first half and couldn’t come down with a 50-50 ball in the final overtime that would have extended the contest further.
Even if White isn’t the long-term answer for Malzahn and Co., he’s a tough young man and gave Auburn a few chances to steal one in Fayetteville.
2. Alex Collins with a sweet tribute to his fellow running back
Play was halted during the Auburn-Arkansas game for several minutes when Razorbacks RB Rawleigh Williams III had to be carted off the field on a stretcher.
Soon thereafter, RB Alex Collins got Arkansas into the end zone with a 7-yard touchdown run to retake the lead 21-14. Instead of drawing attention to himself, Collins held two up fingers on each hand as he made his way back to the sideline — Williams wears No. 22 for the Hogs.
Williams was later diagnosed with a neck injury and had surgery Saturday, but he is expected to make a full recovery.
3. Just another day on the bayou
LSU RB Leonard Fournette: 26 carries for 150 yards and a touchdown (yawn).
In what might actually be newsworthy, Tigers QB Brandon Harris completed 11 of 20 passes for 286 yards — that’s a whopping 14.3 yards per attempt — and 3 touchdowns. Granted, it was Western Kentucky out of its element under the lights in Death Valley, but suddenly LSU doesn’t look so one-dimensional.
Harris has the potential to make a ton of big plays in the passing game since enemy safeties have no choice but to cheat toward the line of scrimmage and help the front seven tackle the otherworldly Fournette.
4. No Nkemdiche, no problem
Ole Miss DT Robert Nkemdiche wasn’t able to suit up due to the concussion he suffered last week against Memphis, but the Rebels still completely shut down Texas A&M without their future top-10 pick.
An Aggies offense that came into the matchup averaging 36.5 points per game (tied for 26th nationally) and 291 yards passing (22nd) was held to a measly second-quarter field goal and only 134 yards through the air in a 23-3 drubbing at the hands of Colonel Reb. A&M averaged 2.1 yards per rush, 2.9 yards per pass and turned it over three times.
The much-balleyhooed battle between Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil and Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett slanted well in Tunsil’s favor from beginning to end, although Garrett will still have scouts drooling after putting this play on tape.
5. Someone dressed up as another No. 15 for Halloween
Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott was nothing short of unstoppable in a 42-16 trouncing of Kentucky in Starkville, doing his best Tim Tebow impression with three passing touchdowns and three more scores on the ground.
He made all the throws coach Dan Mullen — Tebow’s former offensive coordinator at Florida, of course — expected him to make, connecting on 25 of 35 for 348 yards. But he was truly special as a ball carrier, running both the quarterback power and the read-option to near perfection on his way to 117 yards on only 13 attempts.
While his streak of 288 consecutive passes without an interception was snapped when Kentucky CB Chris Westry picked off an underthrown go route down the right sideline, it was really Prescott’s lone miscue of the night.
6. Hopefully the first of many
There will be no asterisk just because it came against a Missouri squad that has proven to be allergic to the end zone in recent weeks, so congratulations to Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason for recording his first win in the SEC.
7. Reggie White would have been proud
Despite the loss, Tennessee fans should feel very encouraged after what they saw from their defensive line against Alabama.
The Volunteers relentlessly pressured Crimson Tide QB Jake Coker, sacking him a handful of times and forcing him to scramble repeatedly — typically to no avail. It’s easy to see the 143 yards and two touchdowns RB Derrick Henry compiled and assume Tennessee was gashed on the ground, but holding him to 5.1 yards per carry and a long rush of 20 is respectable for a young team still learning how to win in a hostile environment.
Rocky Top should run the table to finish 8-4 and 4-4 in the conference, which would be yet another step in the right direction under coach Butch Jones.
8. Julio and Amari, meet Calvin
Alabama WR Calvin Ridley may very well be the next Julio Jones or Amari Cooper, as the freshman sensation already has 45 catches for 525 yards and 3 touchdowns and been every bit as productive as Tide legends Jones and Cooper were right out of high school.
9. Hurricanes downgraded to a tropical depression
Miami suffered the worst defeat in the history of its once-proud program, a 58-0 shellacking — in front of next to nobody at Sun Life Stadium — at the hands of Clemson.
Hurricanes coach Al Golden was finally given the axe Sunday, so The U is hitting the reset button once again. The glory days of the ’80s and ’90s are so far in the rearview mirror that today’s four- and five-star kids in Dade and Broward Counties weren’t even alive at the time. Most are too young to remember Miami’s 2001 national title.
A small private school that can’t keep up with the financial arms race we’ve seen in college football the last decade, the Hurricanes might indeed be permanently dead.
Why is this good news for the SEC? The fertile recruiting grounds of South Florida have never been more ripe for the picking, as coaches from Gainesville to Lexington and Columbia to, well, Columbia can offer all those recruits everything the ‘Canes can’t. It’s why playmakers like Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley leave the area.
The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer.
10. Double your pleasure
With both No. 3 Utah and No. 9 Florida State losing Saturday night, the SEC bettered its chances of sending not one but two teams to the College Football Playoff.
The best-case scenario for a one-loss SEC team is the Seminoles going on the road and upsetting undefeated Clemson in two weeks, which would give every ACC team at least one blemish — a one-loss ACC program isn’t going anywhere near the playoff. USC’s defeat of Utah means there are no perfect teams left in the Pac-12, and despite how well Stanford is playing, starting the season by laying a 16-6 egg at Northwestern is hard to ignore.
Undefeated LSU, one-loss Alabama and even one-loss Florida are still in the conversation.
What I didn’t like
1. Jake Coker’s receivers making him look better than he is
Don’t be fooled by Alabama QB Jake Coker’s stat line, as the raw numbers suggest he had a pretty productive day in a win over Tennessee: 21 of 27 for 247 yards with no touchdowns and 1 interception.
However, a handful of those completions were pseudo jet sweeps to receivers in motion, as those grabs were nothing more than short shovel passes instead of handoffs and, therefore, qualified as passes. Several more catches were of the highlight reel-worthy variety courtesy of receivers Ridley and ArDarius Stewart, who bailed out Coker on inaccurate throws time and time again.
Anybody who still believes Coker was only narrowly beaten out by Jameis Winston — who won the Heisman Trophy and became a No. 1 draft pick — for the starting job in Tallahassee two seasons ago is kidding himself or doesn’t understand how Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher manipulates the media.
Fortunately for Coker, he has a bludgeoning running back in Henry and enviable skill-position weapons around him, not to mention five-star recruits at every level on defense. But he is not a natural thrower of the football, plus his instincts have to be questioned after he repeatedly fails to throw it away when he’s outside the pocket and there’s nothing there.
It’s incredible that coach Nick Saban assembles the best recruiting classes in the country year after year but can never get his hands on a genuine talent at the game’s most important position.
2. Overtime rules are in desperate need of some tweaking
While the final score certainly gave the impression it was an instant classic, in reality the four-overtime victory that host Arkansas pulled out over visiting Auburn was maddening on many levels.
We need to scrap the format that sees each team get handed the ball at the 25-yard line and only being forced to go for two in the third overtime and beyond. Instead, start each possession at midfield — offenses would have to put together some semblance of a drive in order to score — and then make going for two mandatory after every touchdown.
Games will end quicker, injuries will be fewer and, perhaps most important, the final score will actually resemble what we saw in regulation.
3. Tony Barnhart a little too eager for happy hour to arrive
During halftime of the Auburn-Arkansas tilt on SEC Network, analyst Tony Barnhart was giving commentary alongside host Peter Burns with the top button of his shirt undone and his tie hanging loosely around his neck. Keep in mind that it was only intermission of the noon game at the time.
Someone from wardrobe must have been in Barnhart’s ear before his next on-camera appearance, as the knot of his tie was again making contact with his neck — the top button was still undone, though.
4. Allen tends to flinch in the face of the rush
Arkansas QB Brandon Allen threw for 231 (overtime-inflated) yards on 19-of-31 passing with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception, with a good portion of his damage done off play-action throws.
The Razorbacks did a brilliant job early in the game maintaining balance on offense, throwing in down-and-distance situations that suggested run and running in down-and-distance situations that implied pass. Allen was especially sharp working the ball to his tight ends, as Hunter Henry caught two big passes on an opening-drive touchdown and Jeremy Sprinkle found the end zone himself early in the second quarter.
Nevertheless, when Allen faced heavy pressure on traditional drop-back passes, on more than one occasion he appeared to chuck the ball into coverage with his eyes closed in an effort to avoid being mangled — his lone INT came in such fashion.
Auburn QB Sean White showed a lot more guts when the walls were closing in, completing several throws he only saw after peeling himself off the turf and taking a look at the JumboTron. Allen can’t blame it on a lack of experience, as he has more career starts than any signal caller in the conference.
The Hogs have a strong offense when they run effectively and then mix in some misdirection here and there, but they’re at a bigger disadvantage than most programs when stuck behind the chains.
5. No excuses
It doesn’t matter that he was missing two of his starting offensive linemen. It doesn’t matter that Alabama has an embarrassment of riches along the D-line. It doesn’t matter that he’s seemingly the entire offense both in the air and — with all apologies to RB Jalen Hurd — on the ground.
Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs can’t take a sack in the final two minutes down one score with a chance to win. Not only did he get sacked on first down and have to burn his last timeout, but then he got sacked again on second down, lost a fumble and let Rocky Top’s upset bid slip away.
The Volunteers are getting closer thanks to a Herculean effort on the recruiting trail the last few years, but they’re not contenders yet.
6. Not much bite in these Tigers
Missouri hasn’t scored a touchdown in 13 quarters. He’s just a freshman and can still develop into a quality passer one day, but Tigers QB Drew Lock was dreadful in a 10-3 loss at Vanderbilt: 14 of 34 for 108 yards with no TDs and no picks.
For what it’s worth, the Commodores came into the game 65th nationally giving up 223.2 yards per game through the air.
7. Luckily the Denver Broncos don’t have any more bye weeks
Former QB Peyton Manning was a guest on the Tennessee bench. The future Hall of Famer did a sideline interview with CBS’ Allie LaForce. He managed to plug his quarterback camp and his DirecTV commercials in the span of a single play.
As really high voice Peyton Manning would say, “It’s like…”
8. These Cats are burning through lives on D
Mark Stoops solidified his reputation as a terrific defensive coach during his three-year reign as a coordinator at Florida State from 2010-12, setting the blueprint for a dominant defense that helped win the Seminoles a national championship in 2013.
That being said, well into his third season as the head coach at Kentucky, the Wildcats aren’t stopping anybody in an SEC East that isn’t exactly littered with offensive juggernauts. Giving up 42 points to Dak Prescott and Co. — and the far more competitive SEC West — in Stark Vegas is far from an embarrassment, but check out these numbers through eight weeks for Stoops: 58th in the country in scoring defense (25.9 points allowed per game), 78th against the run (172.7 yards allowed per game), 76th against the pass (232.3) and 77th in total defense (405).
The Cats have a home game with Tennessee this coming week followed by road dates at Georgia and Vanderbilt, and they might have to win two of those three to truly call this season a success.
9. Oh, to be a kicker
Tennessee K Aaron Medley missed all three of his field-goal attempts in Tuscaloosa, which wreaked havoc on the outcome for Vols fans.
To be fair, one miss was from 40-plus and the two others were from 50-plus, but coach Butch Jones wouldn’t have sent the sophomore out there if he didn’t have the range. Medley has converted only 9 of 17 field-goal tries on the year — this after a commendable 20-of-26 showing as a freshman last season.
Arguably the biggest difference between college football and the NFL is the near-automatic nature of the kicking game when paychecks are involved.
10. To gamble or not to gamble
After Auburn scored a touchdown on the first possession of overtime to go up on Arkansas 31-24, the Razorbacks answered with a TD. Hogs coach Bret Bielema could have ended the game right then and there 32-31 by calling his best two-point-conversion play, but opted to kick the extra point, tie it again at 31 and move on to a second OT.
Presumably, he felt such a gamble would be too risky.
But then on the very first snap of the second overtime, Arkansas ran an incredibly high-risk play that could have single-handedly destroyed the possession: a throwback pass across the field to not-so-nimble QB Brandon Allen. While the play went for 11 yards — Allen came up limping after being tackled, by the way — and the drive ended with a touchdown, it was a bizarre flip-flop from conservative to crazy on back-to-back calls.
Arkansas later converted both of its two-point attempts in the third and fourth overtimes.
In other words, the Hogs clearly prepared during the week for a crucial situation in which they may need to go for two. Bielema, like most coaches, was apparently more comfortable trying to continue the game than trying to end it.