10 things I'm absolutely overreacting to after Week 4 in the SEC
Nick Saban? Of course, but that’s also one way to describe what has happened to Mississippi State and Tennessee since the 2020 opener … or maybe even Bo Nix and Auburn after the Oregon opener in 2019 … or, perhaps, Georgia’s defense against elite offenses.
Subsequent tests have come up negative.
On the positive-positive side, at least nobody is waking up this morning still screaming at SEC officials.
Here are 10 things I’m absolutely overreacting to after another Saturday Down South in and around the SEC.
10. The “outside lab” that produced the most famous false positive in college football
Alabama released a statement Friday updating Nick Saban’s COVID situation. The big news was that Saban had tested negative again and needed one more negative test to coach Saturday (which he got and therefore was eligible to coach and beat a former assistant for the 22nd consecutive time). Buried in Alabama’s statement was the fact “the initial positive result came from an outside lab we’ve used to supplement the SEC-mandated testing.”
This being the SEC, I immediately had 3 thoughts. A) Lord help that “outside lab.” B) I wonder who runs that “outside lab” and where everybody affiliated with it in any way went to school. C) I hope it’s not Georgia.
Overly suspicious and skeptical? Of course. It’s part of the job.
So insanely unlikely that it could qualify as the most “it might mean too much” SEC conspiracy theory of all time? Sure, until the Playoff, anyway.
9. Jarrett Guarantano is the world’s greatest roller coaster, but the end is near
Has anybody had a rockier career on Rocky Top than Tennessee’s 5th-year senior quarterback?
He’s great. Not he’s not. Yes he is, see? No he’s not, see? It seems like his entire career has been the longest roller coaster ride in world history.
He was good last week in the first half against Georgia. He struggled mightily in the second half.
Saturday against Kentucky, he produced this sequence on 3 consecutive drives:
- Lost fumble at Kentucky 26
- Pick-6 that put Kentucky ahead 7-0
- Pick-6 that stretched Kentucky’s lead to 14-0
He was benched again, but he wasn’t done. Of course not. Backup J.T. Shrout promptly threw an interception on his first attempt. Guarantano came back in … and led Tennessee on a late TD drive just before halftime that seemed to re-energize the Vols.
Harrison Bailey finished the game and Neyland Stadium erupted when he completed a sideline pass.
The end is near for Guarantano, but it’s not quite here. Tennessee has Alabama next week and then a Halloween bye week. It would be unfair to ask a true freshman to make his first start against Alabama. But if that game goes as expected, you can expect the Bailey Era to start Nov. 7 against Arkansas as Pruitt fully embraces the future.
8. “Mrs. Lincoln may have liked the play, but she’s not talking about it …”
There’s no context in which a joke about an assassinated president is proper or even mildly amusing, but Tom Hart used that line to question Jeremy Pruitt’s decision to stick with Guarantano.
“The negative plays … there were 3 interceptions and 2 pick-6s. And oh, by the way, a fumble. I mean, Mrs. Lincoln may have liked the play, but she’s not talking about it.”
Just … no.
Questioning the decision is more than fair; it’s the job.
But put that line in the closet and keep it there. It was more errant than either of Guarantano’s pick-6s.
7. Bo Nix is not the answer
Here we go again.
Nix threw 3 more interceptions Saturday, the first 2 like most of the ones before. On the run, into coverage. Poor mechanics, compounded by a bad decision equaled a predictable result.
Nix completed 51% of his passes Saturday, missing Auburn’s top receiver Seth Williams numerous times, avoiding him altogether in the biggest moments.
Some frustration on Auburn's sidelines after that last offensive possession. Chad Morris trying to be the mediator between Bo Nix and Seth Williams.pic.twitter.com/ve1NWgRoVv
— Josh Vitale (@JoshVitale) October 17, 2020
On Auburn’s final drive, the 2 biggest plays Nix made were with his legs. On 4th-and-5 at South Carolina’s 12-yard line, Nix took off again instead of giving Soaring Seth Williams a chance to make a play. Nix came up short. Auburn lost.
This isn’t new. This is who Nix is.
Bo Nix's passing numbers over Auburn's last three games:
— Two touchdown passes.
— Four interceptions, including three today.
— 54 percent completion percentage (62 of 115).
— 5.5 yards per pass attempt, which would rank sixth-worst nationally if it was his season average.
— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) October 17, 2020
If Gus Malzahn keeps going down this well, eventually it won’t be his decision to make.
Hey, look at that. Hugh Freeze just improved to 5-0 and knocked off a Power 5 team …
6. So, where will Barry Odom be next year?
Defensive coordinator at Alabama? Or LSU? The NFL?
Maybe he gets another shot at head coaching. There could be a couple of SEC openings.
A week after Ole Miss’ offense scored the most points on any Nick Saban defense, Odom’s Hogs forced 6 turnovers — including 6 interceptions off red-hot Matt Corral — in a 33-21 victory over the Rebels.
Arkansas set the tone immediately, too, stymying the Rebels’ first 8 possessions:
- Stopped Ole Miss on 4 tries from inside the 4-yard line, recovering a fumble on 4th-and-goal from the 1
- Forced a punt
- Intercepted a pass
- Intercepted another pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown
- Got another 4th-down stop
- Forced a punt after 3-and-out
- Forced a punt after 3-and-out
- Got another 4th-down stop
After Ole Miss scored to draw within 20-7, Arkansas intercepted passes to end the Rebels’ next 2 drives.
And then, just as Arkansas’ defense began to bend, Grant Morgan intercepted Corral and returned it 23 yards for the game-sealing points. The Hogs capped their performance with a 6th interception.
Odom’s impact on Arkansas’ defense has been the biggest — and best — in the SEC.
5. The bottom 5 of Power 5
The worst of the weak:
1. Auburn play-calling: I’m not going to blame Chad Morris for Bo Nix’s lack of accuracy or efficiency, but I am wondering why in the world you’d ask the guy to throw it 47 times in a 1-score game going into the 4th quarter. If you’re going to stick with Nix — I wouldn’t — it’s time to treat him like Terry Wilson or John Rhys Plumlee and build a game plan around his legs.
2. Tennessee play-calling: Whoops … Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt beat me to it. I will say this: Run the ball. Eric Gray is the Vols’ best offensive player. Lean on him.
3. Dan Mullen’s positive COVID test: It’s never good news when anybody tests positive. And this isn’t the time to play the blame game, either, or talk about karma. Mullen said his test result has been confirmed. Let’s hope he recovers quickly, but it’s a bad development for the Gators.
4. SEC offenses: A week after 7 SEC teams topped 40 points, only Alabama cleared 40 this week. And the Tide did it against the greatest defense in the history of the world, or so we were led to believe.
5. Notre Dame’s offense: The Irish beat Louisville 12-7. They scored 1 TD against a Louisville team that gave up 46 points last week in a loss to Georgia Tech … which just lost 73-7 against Clemson. I know the transitive property of college football is for bar arguments only, but I’ve seen enough from the Irish to know they don’t belong in the Playoff discussion.
4. The 4 Playoff teams are …
1. Alabama, 2. Clemson, 3. Georgia, 4. Ohio State.
Clearly, I overreacted last week when I wrote Georgia’s defense would handle Alabama’s offense at least well enough to allow Georgia’s offense to take advantage of Alabama’s suspect defense. I changed my pick. I should have known better than to doubt Nick Saban.
Alabama dominated the Dawgs Saturday.
Mac Jones played like a Heisman Trophy winner. Najee Harris controlled the tempo with his legs. And Nick Saban does what Nick Saban always does: He beat a former assistant coach.
3. Before you give up on Mike Leach, remember this …
He inherited an offense that hadn’t produced a single 31-catch receiver in the previous 3 seasons.
That fact alone provides all the context needed to explain that Leach didn’t exactly walk into an ideal setting for his Air Raid attack.
But to further explain how run-heavy Mississippi State had been recently, Fred Ross had 72 catches in 2016. In the 3 seasons since, Mississippi State’s annual leading receivers combined for 83 catches.
Osirus Mitchell, who had 29 catches last season, was the top receiver Leach inherited.
That talent/system-fit gap is just as culpable for the Bulldogs’ aerial struggles as grad transfer QB KJ Costello, who, as many have noted, is not an ideal fit for the system, either.
If we’re having this same conversation after Week 4 of next season, then I’ll be ready to overreact and say there’s no way this will work.
Until then, I’m going to give Leach a full recruiting cycle to recruit and implement.
2. Congratulations to Kentucky
Kentucky is always 1 loss from being written off, forgotten.
So when the Cats lost the opener at Auburn, many turned the page.
When the lost the next week at Ole Miss, everybody except friends and family of the program started looking ahead to Midnight Madness.
All Stoops’ troops done is make history the past 2 weeks.
First, they became the first defensive team to hold a Mike Leach offense without a single point.
Saturday, they became the first Kentucky team to win at Tennessee since the 1984 team. Players on that team are old enough to be fathers of kids on this team.
Think Stoops enjoyed Saturday’s beatdown a little bit?
Mark Stoops on KSR Postgame Show:
“You ask me if l am happy about this win? I am sitting on the bus with a glass of Bourbon. I am going home and will smoke a cigar. What’s that tell you?
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) October 17, 2020
1. It’s still Alabama’s world
Alabama couldn’t have had more questions or distractions heading into its massive showdown against No. 3 Georgia.
It couldn’t have had any more motivation, either.
For the 3rd consecutive time in Nick vs. Kirby, Alabama dominated the 2nd half of a game against Georgia.
This time, they outscored the Bulldogs 21-0, paving the way for a 41-24 victory. Their performance was nearly perfect.
Mac Jones threw for 400+ yards with 4 TD passes in his most Joe Burrow-like performance to date. He took hits and delivered knockout shots. DeVonta Smith dominated Georgia’s touted secondary for 167 yards and 2 TDs. Jaylen Waddle added 161 yards and a score. And Najee Harris helped make it possible by rushing through, over and around Georgia’s front 7 for 152 yards and a TD. It might have been his most Derrick Henry-like performance.
Whatever question you might have had about Alabama’s defense, the Tide answered. They picked off 3 passes. They got off the field. They pitched a shutout for the final 30 minutes, which is all their explosive offense needed.
Alabama looked like Alabama.
Which means Alabama looked like the best team in the country.