Early impressions on every Week 12 SEC game
I had a feeling we’d get to this point come mid-December.
It’s a point where we have significant separation in the SEC. Like, so significant that simply getting a 1-score game seems like a victory. We had 1 this past weekend. In fact, of the last 2 weekends, the Egg Bowl and Arkansas-Mizzou were the only SEC games decided by single digits. That’s not ideal, though it’s not surprising.
As Texas QB Sam Ehlinger predicted over the summer, we’re seeing late-season opt-outs in this pandemic season, and yes, it’s greatly impacting the quality of the matchups. If you don’t believe that, perhaps you haven’t watched teams like LSU and South Carolina. Shoot, even Tennessee looks like a team that has checked out.
So as we break down these matchups for Game No. 9 for some and Game No. 10 for others, remember that we’re not talking about all of these teams at full strength.
Here are my early impressions for the slate ahead:
LSU vs. Florida — Could another slow Florida start benefit a team like LSU?
It’s no secret that Florida hasn’t been the fastest starting team. Even in the Cocktail Party, the Gators dug a 14-0 hole. Ultimately, they climbed out if it. On this current 6-game winning streak, Florida is actually just +13 in the first quarter. Go figure that the Georgia game was actually the last time that Florida scored twice in the first quarter. Is that the formula LSU needs to actually have a chance? I’d say so.
It’s demoralizing to get punched in the mouth like LSU has this year. The Tigers have been humbled on almost a weekly basis, especially on the defensive side. This is the type of game where if LSU gets run off the field early and TJ Finley is in obvious passing situations, it’s fair to wonder if this team will check out. That’s the point that we’re at. If not, though, maybe we can actually get a full 60 minutes from an LSU team who gets a shot in the arm from Florida.
In order for that to happen, LSU fans have to hold onto hope that Bo Pelini will be the first coach to dial up a game plan to slow down Kyle Pitts!
OK, that was mean. Sorry, LSU fans. If you can’t laugh at yourself …
Auburn vs. MSU — I tip my cap to Tank Bigsby, but I can’t help but wonder
He’s one tough dude. He really is. I applaud the guy for going out there against Alabama and Texas A&M to try and help Auburn beat a pair of top-5 teams. But at this point, I can’t help but wonder if Auburn, at 5-4, would be better suited to let Bigsby get right and sit out the rest of the season to rest that injured hip. Maybe he can come back for a bowl game if that hip is right. It just doesn’t seem to make sense to play someone like him in a limited role for a 5-4 team, given the big plans for him in that offense.
The Auburn coaching staff believes he could be a Heisman-caliber tailback one day. I’m not here to say that they’re wrong. I am, however, fearful that his violent running style could limit his upside down the road if he isn’t managed right. I know Shaun Shivers is working through an ankle injury and DJ Williams has been banged up at times this year, so the backfield isn’t exactly flushed with healthy alternatives. But now that Auburn isn’t getting one of those marquee SEC wins, saving your best player for the long term seems like a wise move.
Georgia vs. Mizzou — How much gas does Larry Rountree III have left?
Have y’all seen Rountree’s workload the past 3 games? In a 15-day stretch, he had 72 touches. That’s a ton of work, even for someone as experienced as Rountree. Don’t get me wrong. Eli Drinkwitz was smart to ride the hot hand. Rountree’s production — 403 rushing yards on 69 carries — warrants it. He’s one of the top comeback players of the year in all of college football, especially coming off this 2-game stretch in which he racked up 345 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns.
Against Georgia, one would think that Drinkwitz would love to try and keep that red-hot offense off the field. Playing a ball-control game with Rountree has proven to be an effective formula as of late, though Arkansas didn’t exactly struggle to score points. I wonder if we’ll see more of Tyler Badie in the ground game in this one. Badie hasn’t been used in the ground game quite as I thought he would in Drinkwitz’s offense, but he’s got 3 rushing scores the last 2 games, including 2 in that thriller against Arkansas.
Rountree is sitting at No. 2 in the SEC in carries and he’s No. 7 nationally in that department. Against a strong Georgia run defense, I wouldn’t expect this to be another 25-carry outing from Rountree.
Ole Miss vs. Texas A&M — Shootout, shootout, shootout
We’re past the point of making predictions about offenses scoring points against the Ole Miss defense. While I think Otis Reese’s presence will be key for an otherwise hopeless group, I don’t think he alone will be enough to stop this dominant Texas A&M ground game, which is getting better by the week. That’s the given.
What I also think is likely is that Ole Miss has a lot of success throwing the ball against A&M. Yes, even though Mike Elko’s defense has been extremely successful as of late against the likes of LSU and Auburn, I think we see Ole Miss take advantage of the same thing we saw Arkansas, Florida and Alabama exploit. That is, the downfield passing attack. If you’re going to attack the A&M defense anywhere, it’s on the back end. Bo Nix and TJ Finley weren’t the guys to take advantage of that. Matt Corral absolutely can be.
This is a dangerous matchup for an A&M team who is by no means out of the woods just because it won monumental games against LSU and Auburn. Ole Miss can be hell to play against for 60 minutes. Expect all sorts of points in College Station.
Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt — Don’t want to rely on Harrison Bailey? Rely on Eric Gray
I mean, it’s Vandy in the midst of a winless season with a gutted roster and an interim coach. If Jeremy Pruitt can’t trust his true freshman to go win him a game without rolling out some sort of quarterback rotation, what are we really doing here? Besides, this sets up for another big Gray day.
(Ignore that I just said that. Swing and a miss.)
Remember what Gray did against Vandy last year? I’m pretty sure he just scored another touchdown. I realize that Gray’s volume hasn’t necessarily been the problem — he still needed more carries against Auburn — during Tennessee’s losing streak. He’s had a minimum of 19 touches in each of Tennessee’s last 5 games. Vandy is surrendering 294 rushing yards per contest this year, which is slightly better than lowly Ole Miss. If Gray doesn’t have 150 rushing yards in this game, it’ll be a major surprise.
Alabama vs. Arkansas — This Arkansas defense is reeling at the worst time
About a month ago, I was ready to hand the Broyles Award to Barry Odom. Then Arkansas struggled with depth issues and reality set in. Three games and 140 points later, yeah, it’s taken a different turn. I know, I know. Grant Morgan going down against Mizzou was costly. That might’ve been the difference in that game, in which even Sam Pittman looked like he knew his defense wasn’t about to get a key stop late. At least he wasn’t willing to celebrate that go-ahead touchdown knowing there was still time on the clock.
Now, of course, Arkansas is seeing what’s perhaps the best offense in SEC history. It’ll have to manage 60 minutes against 3 Heisman Trophy candidates on that Alabama offense. The depth issues on the Arkansas defensive line will likely prove costly against an Alabama offensive line that’s been dominant. Perhaps the only bright side is that this Arkansas defense has been much better at home than it’s been on the road.
But no, I wouldn’t expect Arkansas to prevent Alabama from hanging half a hundred.