Early impressions of every SEC game in Week 12
Cupcake Week? Nah. It’s Cake Week.
You see, cupcakes are fine. They are. They have countless possibilities and if offered one, surely you aren’t turning it down. Perhaps that’s how this week in the SEC got its unofficial name. Nobody turns down the opportunity to face Charleston Southern in late November because it’s a nice little tuneup for the home stretch.
But Cake Week makes more sense.
SEC teams who schedule FCS teams — there are 4 as well as 2 Group of 5 matchups — just want to have their cake and eat it. I still don’t entirely understand what that phrase means.
OK, so let me back up.
Cake is better than cupcakes. There. I fixed it.
Here are my early impressions of every Cake Week matchup in the SEC:
Charleston Southern vs. Georgia — We’ve got to see some JT Daniels
You know, just in case. We knew that the odds weren’t great that he’d play against Tennessee. Credit Stetson Bennett for not making us all think about that possibility. Against Charleston Southern, I think we should get close to a full half of reps for Daniels. Remember, the guy has played in 1 game since September. This isn’t like 2017 when Tua Tagovailoa played in virtually every game in garbage time.
If Daniels is going to be ready, he needs to continue to develop that rapport with UGA’s pass-catchers. That was a bit hit and miss against Mizzou. This should be an ideal opportunity for Kirby Smart to get the veteran out there with clean pockets and big throwing windows.
New Mexico State vs. Kentucky — Two physical SEC games in a row for the Aggies? Yikes.
Imagine being told after facing Alabama for 60 minutes that you’ve now got to turn around and face another solid SEC team. Oh, I left something out. Imagine going that as a 1-win team who has yet to beat an FBS foe. Good luck. As long as Kentucky doesn’t revert back to its Chattanooga game plan, there’s no reason why the Cats shouldn’t control this one from start to finish. Liam Coen talked about how he needed to scheme better in the ground game after that mess.
I’d expect a whole lot of Chris Rodriguez early in this one. The SEC’s No. 2 rusher is would still need quite the finish to reach Kentucky’s single-season rushing record of 1,600 yards. He surpassed the 1,000-yard mark against Vandy and would essentially need to average 189 yards. After watching Brian Robinson, an extremely similar back, go off against this New Mexico State defense, Rodriguez should get plenty of opportunities to take over.
Tennessee State vs. Mississippi State — Eddie George vs. Mike Leach? Yes, please.
As a child of the ’90s, the first NFL video game I remember playing was Madden with Eddie George on the cover. For some, I bet the first college football video game they played was with Leach’s Air Raid offense. Saturday will be a game played in real life, and given how confident MSU’s offense looks right now, that’s bad news for George and Tennessee State, who are just fighting to finish with a winning record at the FCS level.
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Will Rogers is playing at an All-SEC level and appears to be in total command of Leach’s offense. Go figure that with the Louisiana Tech game turning into a thriller, this might actually be the first time all year when we see Leach’s team get to sort of ease up in the fourth quarter. Perhaps that’s why this week is when Leach is trying out a few dozen kickers with open tryouts. Fortunately for him, this one shouldn’t come down to a field goal.
Prairie View A&M vs. Texas A&M — The Aggies’ defensive line needs a breather
DeMarvin Leal, Jayden Peevy and Michael Clemons have played a ton of snaps this year. Tyree Johnson’s emergence has helped, too. But after consecutive weeks against physical, balanced SEC West offenses, this game against Prairie View A&M couldn’t come at a better time. Only 4 Power 5 edge defenders have played more snaps than Leal (602), who is coming off consecutive games with 67 and 68 snaps. Clemons is coming off games with 60-plus snaps himself, too.
Cake Week — remember it’s not Cupcake Week — will be a welcome sight before those guys hit the home stretch. They could still be fighting for a New Year’s 6 Bowl against LSU, so surely Mike Elko would love to only have them out there for 30-35 snaps at most.
Arkansas vs. Alabama — Jameson Williams against Myles Slusher could favor the home team
And I say that even though I thought Slusher was excellent against LSU. He had a huge diving interception when it looked like LSU was about to take the lead. But I do wonder about how he’ll look over the top against the Alabama speedster, who is leading the SEC in receiving and is averaging 20.2 yards per catch. He can make you pay. If Arkansas doesn’t get home against Bryce Young, Williams is more than capable of getting behind that Arkansas secondary.
JAMESON WILLIAMS IS GOOD AT FOOTBALL 💨💨💨 pic.twitter.com/tHsAKd4kSd
— 247Sports (@247Sports) November 7, 2021
It’s interesting because a lot of the talk this week will about the run game. Can Alabama actually get the ground game going after that 6-yard performance in its last SEC game? And could Arkansas follow the Florida gameplan and make this a 60-minute ballgame? But really, Williams is the guy who can separate and take over at a moment’s notice. Alabama would’ve been in a world of hurt without Williams against LSU. He could be the game-changer against an Arkansas defense who regained its confidence after a midseason lull.
Florida vs. Mizzou — Tyler Badie and late-season Columbia could be a terrible combo for Dan Mullen’s team
I’ve been saying this for weeks and Saturday’s developments only confirmed that. Badie isn’t fun to tackle. At all. Like, the guy is leading the SEC in rushing by over 200 yards. Speaking of 200 yards, he hit that mark in 4 of Mizzou’s 10 games this year. Florida hasn’t exactly looked like a team that was crazy about tackling this year. The loss of Ventrell Miller continues to hurt the Gators.
Badie is averaging exactly 25 touches per game (20 carries and 5 catches). Eli Drinkwitz isn’t afraid to give him the rock 30-35 times. He’s Mizzou’s only hope. There’s no way around it, especially without knowing what to expect from the quarterback position after Connor Bazelak has been in and out of the lineup. Florida just let up 52 points to an FCS team at home, and that was after South Carolina’s struggling ground game had its best game of the year against the Gators, so the idea of going all the way to Columbia to tackle Tyler Badie doesn’t seem like the type of thing they’d be up for with game-time temperatures in the 40s.
Badie could all but lock in his first-team All-SEC bid by putting Mizzou on his back and clinching bowl eligibility for the Tigers.
Auburn vs. South Carolina — It’s crazy that we’re about to see Bo Nix miss his first career start
The Auburn quarterback got his ankle rolled up on completing a deep pass in Saturday’s collapse against MSU. Like Matt Corral was, Nix was clearly limited. He mostly stayed in the pocket the rest of the day. Now, as we found out on Sunday, we know that Nix was playing through a broken ankle. He’ll be out at least the next 2 games and possibly the rest of the season.
Nix has a streak of 34 consecutive starts, which is by far the longest active streak of any SEC quarterback. Corral is the next closest with 20 consecutive starts. Think what you want about Nix as a player. That’s an incredibly difficult thing to accomplish at any point in your career, much less to start it that way.
That means it’s TJ Finley time for Auburn. Finley, as you recall, torched South Carolina in his first career start last year. Granted, that was a different South Carolina regime with different pieces around him. Finley still showed nice promise late in that Georgia State game. So far, the returns on Mike Bobo’s passing game have been mostly good, but I’d expect him to dare South Carolina to tackle Tank Bigsby after that group got a full dose of Tyler Badie. Saturday should provide some good insight into the future with Finley’s first start at Auburn (but don’t forget that Nix has 2 years of eligibility left after this year).
South Alabama vs. Tennessee — Jake Bentley reunion? No? How dare you, injury gods!
He’s somehow still playing college football. Wild! I’m old enough to remember when Bentley showed that great sportsmanship after beating Tennessee back in 2017. Bentley consoling Jarrett Guarantano was on all sorts of promotional SEC Network stuff.
South Carolina QB Jake Bentley comforts Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano following a USC W
(🎥 via @Hale_SECCountry)pic.twitter.com/QPOn8LyLRG
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) October 14, 2017
But we’ve actually been robbed of a Bentley SEC reunion because he was carted off the field with a torn MCL last week. Bentley was in the midst of a career year with South Alabama, too. It’s too bad because I wanted to do the Twitter search on Saturday and just see nothing but people realizing that Bentley was still somehow playing college football in Year 6.
Oh well. I suppose that’s good for Tennessee considering that Bentley was 3-0 against the Vols in his career.
Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss — I wouldn’t hate Matt Corral sitting out this game
Get that ankle right, please. We all want the Egg Bowl to live up to the hype. Let me rephrase that. We need the Egg Bowl to live up to the hype. That ankle isn’t going to get any better by playing, even in a favorable matchup against Vandy. Corral plays the game 1 way, and he looks awkward dialing it back in any capacity. That’s a man who does not enjoy sliding.
Do I expect Corral to sit this game even though he’ll be on a short week ahead of the Egg Bowl? No. That’s not the way he’s wired. But with the Heisman Trophy likely out of reach, the individual accolades are probably not on the table. Ole Miss should be able to win this game by running the football a ton with that 3-headed attack. If I were Lane Kiffin, I’d think long and hard about preserving Corral in a lopsided matchup. Dress him and make him your emergency quarterback in case all hell breaks lose and Vandy makes it a competitive game.
Louisiana-Monroe vs. LSU — I have no idea what to expect from the LSU quarterback situation anymore
So I get that Ed Orgeron is sort of like the retired teacher who is entering his final month on the job. He can pretty much get away with doing whatever he wants and it won’t greatly impact anything. If he wants to show the class movies every day until he retires, he can do that. If he wants to give Max Johnson an ultimatum and tell him that he’s getting pulled unless he lights it up on the first couple series, well, I suppose Orgeron can do that. What are they gonna do, fire him?
Garrett Nussmeier looked very much like a true freshman. The throw to Jack Bech was ridiculous, for sure. That confirmed so many of the things we’ve been hearing about him. But he also made a couple of ill-advised throws that cost LSU a chance to beat Arkansas. It wasn’t exactly a “this job is mine” type of performance. I get why Orgeron would want to see Nussmeier get some reps, but is this going to be a split against Louisiana-Monroe? Because the idea of starting a guy and pulling him is unconventional at best and unfair at worst.
Don’t forget — LSU needs this one just to keep its bowl chances alive. Messing up the quarterback situation and suffering an embarrassing loss isn’t the way Orgeron wants to go out.