The Hangover: Alabama the lone Power 5 unbeaten to survive Week 11
On a chaotic Saturday in college football that nobody saw coming, Alabama yawned its way to another blowout victory.
No. 2 Clemson lost at home to unranked Pittsburgh. No. 3 Michigan lost on the road to unranked Iowa. No. 4 Washington lost at home to a USC team that was 20th in the College Football Playoff rankings but unranked in either major poll.
Seemingly immune from being snakebit, the Crimson Tide simply rolled Mississippi State — the same Mississippi State that upset then-No. 4 Texas A&M just seven days prior — 51-3 in Tuscaloosa. From offense to defense to special teams, ‘Bama beat down the Bulldogs in every phase of the game from start to finish.
With two weeks left to go in the regular season, the Tide are the only unbeaten program left among the Power 5 conferences. While Western Michigan is similarly 10-0, its biggest win is a 22-21 squeaker over Northwestern.
The lesson, once again, is that coach Nick Saban and Co. are playing on a different level than every other club in the country.
Offensively, true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts threw for 347 yards, ran for an even 100 more and accounted for 5 total touchdowns. MSU featured the worst pass defense in the SEC, so Hurts carved it up accordingly.
On the defensive side of the ball, Alabama held Nick Fitzgerald to only 145 yards passing and 15 rushing. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder is more runner than thrower at this point — he ran for 182 yards and 2 TDs last week beating the Aggies — and learned what previous victims already knew: Nobody runs on the Crimson Tide.
When the new CFP rankings are released Tuesday, just about anything is possible with regard to the second, third and fourth positions. However, the grip ‘Bama has on No. 1 is suffocating the rest of the nation.
Program by program, here are some of the more memorable nuggets and tidbits that I scribbled into my Week 11 notebook.
As if they weren’t impressive enough on offense and defense, the Tide were just about flawless on special teams, too.
Kicker Adam Griffith, who has missed six kicks this season, was a perfect 3-of-3 on field goals. Punter JK Scott was only called upon three times because Hurts played so well, but he averaged a booming 51.3 yards per attempt. Aside from allowing a 50-yard kick return, the coverage units were clean, too.
They do miss Eddie Jackson, though. His replacement on punt returns, Trevon Diggs, has just 18 yards total on five tries in 2016.
Perhaps hitting a bit of a wall as a first-year starter, Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen has seen his effectiveness take a hit.
After a four-game stretch in which he wasn’t intercepted, Allen has now thrown 8 INTs in his past five games — all against SEC opponents. He was picked off twice in a 38-10 loss to LSU, plus he completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes for the first time in 10 starts. The 6-foot-1, 209-pounder was sacked three times to add to his dizzying total.
With the Razorbacks only rushing for 81 yards on 24 carries against the Tigers, too much of the burden fell on Allen’s shoulders.
The SEC’s leading rusher, Kamryn Pettway, didn’t suit up due to injury. As a result, Auburn’s running game wasn’t the same.
In a 13-7 upset loss at Georgia that eliminated them from contention in the division, the Tigers were only able to manage 127 yards on the ground. With Kerryon Johnson more of an East-and-West change of pace, they missed Pettway’s North-and-South style between the tackles. Auburn never broke a run longer than 18 yards.
Unable to pick up a first down on seven second-half possessions, the Tigers didn’t have a gain longer than 6 yards after intermission.
Tightening its running back rotation in recent weeks, Florida has settled on Jordan Scarlett as its primary threat on the ground.
The sophomore ball carrier ran for a career-high 134 yards on 20 carries in a 20-7 win over South Carolina. Lamical Perine, Mark Thompson and Jordan Cronkrite were once again relegated to spot duty and combined for just 22 yards on 7 rushes. Thompson, as a matter of fact, fumbled his only attempt and seems to have fallen out of favor.
Earlier in the season, the Gators were rotating their backs too liberally. Now, Scarlett (above) has a chance to get into more of a rhythm.
Unable to earn regular playing time in Alabama’s loaded secondary, Maurice Smith has flourished since transferring to Georgia.
He delivered the play of the day in Saturday’s upset of Auburn, picking off a Sean White pass and returning it 34 yards for the Bulldogs’ lone touchdown. Smith is now tied for the team lead with 2 interceptions and has also been credited with 38 tackles, a sack, 3 passes broken up and 2 forced fumbles this season.
While the transfer rules in college football are far from perfect and need to be tweaked, Smith’s story is on its way to a happy ending.
Even in a 49-36 defeat at Tennessee, Kentucky was once again dominant on the ground with 443 yards on 55 carries.
Five Wildcats ran the ball against the Volunteers, and all of them posted at least 72 yards. The one-two punch of Stanley “Boom” Williams and Benny Snell did its thing, combining for 206 yards on 31 attempts, but even lesser-used backs Jojo Kemp and Sihiem King ran for 90 and 75 yards, respectively.
The problem is that Stephen Johnson isn’t enough of a passer to balance the attack. A healthy Drew Barker would be nice to have right about now.
LSU destroyed Arkansas in Fayetteville because it completely controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, the Tigers ran 51 times for 390 yards and 5 touchdowns against a Razorbacks front seven that proved to be overmatched. And then on defense, the Bayou Bengals sacked Allen three times and hurried him on four other occasions. The Hogs could do no better than 3.4 yards per carry running the ball, too.
Sometimes losing to Alabama, like LSU did a week ago, can turn into two defeats. The Tigers got off the deck, though.
Before kickoff Saturday, Ole Miss had perhaps the most disinterested fan base in the SEC. The season was a total disappointment.
All of a sudden, Rebels fans can’t wait for next week. True freshman quarterback Shea Patterson, the heir apparent to the injured Chad Kelly, took off his redshirt with only three games left on the schedule and delivered a 29-28 win at Texas A&M. He even led a game-winning drive in the final minute to add to his heroics.
With a frenetic style reminiscent of former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Patterson is a star in the making.
In Mississippi State’s four wins this season, Fitzgerald has averaged 151.5 yards rushing from his quarterback position.
However, in the Bulldogs’ six losses, that average falls all the way down to 41.3. Fitzgerald is a better passer if he’s able to loosen up defenses with the run, as he averages 277.3 yards per game through the air in those four victories. But in those six defeats, only once has he topped 181 yards passing.
The verdict? Not only is Fitzgerald more runner than passer at this point, but MSU’s system is too dependent on him to do it all.
It took six tries, but rookie Missouri coach Barry Odom was finally able to get his first victory in conference play.
Few coaches in America have had a tougher Year 1 than Odom has with the Tigers. Taking over for the legendary Gary Pinkel, Mizzou is clearly in rebuilding mode and doesn’t have the talent to keep up with the rest of the league right now. Interest in the program is also suffering, as Faurot Field was borderline empty before kickoff.
Nevertheless, Odom has remained positive with his players and was finally rewarded Saturday with a 26-17 win over Vanderbilt.
Once South Carolina made the switch to Jake Bentley at quarterback, Deebo Samuel emerged as one of the up-and-coming wideouts in the SEC.
The 6-foot, 205-pounder had caught no fewer than 8 passes in his previous three games and was credited with at least 83 yards receiving in his past four, but that was before his matchup with Florida’s constricting cornerback combination of Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson. Samuel was limited to 4 grabs for 53 yards in Week 11.
Samuel and tight end Hayden Hurst are the leading receivers for the Gamecocks. Neither has reeled in a TD yet, though.
Proving once again that they don’t need Jalen Hurd in the I-formation, Tennessee ran for 376 yards on 41 attempts against Kentucky.
The three-headed monster of quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running backs Alvin Kamara and John Kelly shredded the Wildcats on the ground with a spread-option attack. Dobbs had 147 yards and 2 TDs. Kamara (below) added 128 yards and 2 scores. As a trio, they averaged 9.2 yards per carry and each had a run of at least 27.
Since Hurd quit two games ago, the Volunteers have run 66 times for 553 yards and 7 touchdowns. By the way, they’re also 2-0.
Less than a month ago, Texas A&M was undefeated, No. 6 in the country and one of the pleasant surprises in the conference.
Following Saturday’s loss to Ole Miss, the Aggies have now dropped three of four and will be nowhere near the top of the CFP rankings when they’re made public Tuesday night. Previously the best rushing offense in the league, they have fallen to fifth. Their rushing defense has plummeted to eighth, too.
A&M was fueled earlier in the year by its newfound ability to run the ball and stop the run. The Aggies have forgotten how to do both.
Yes, Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur has improved his numbers as a sophomore when compared to his freshman campaign a year ago.
That being said, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever grow enough to make the Commodores contenders in the East. While the Philadelphia native was 17-of-29 passing for 252 yards in Saturday’s loss to Missouri, he was intercepted twice and dug his team a 19-0 deficit in the second quarter. The best he could do was make it respectable.
Shurmur’s touchdown-to-interception ratio has now turned negative on the season at 5-to-6. The rest of the SEC is a combined 205-to-96.
Florida linebacker Daniel McMillian, who didn’t record a single tackle against South Carolina on Senior Day, opened some eyes with his brutal honesty after the game. Apparently, it was a mistake for him to put on orange and blue.
I feel I would have had a better career if I didn't come to Florida
— Daniel Mcmillian (@GoldManDan_13) November 12, 2016
Originally a four-star recruit from Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast High School, he has only been credited with 46 tackles in four seasons for the Gators. Coach Jim McElwain doesn’t like to censor his players, so McMillian’s tweet wasn’t deleted.
Coming into the season, no player in LSU history had ever rushed for more than the 250 yards gained by Alley Broussard against Ole Miss in 2004.
Leonard Fournette broke that mark with 284 yards — also vs. Ole Miss — in Week 8. On Saturday, with Fournette again hampered by a nagging ankle issue, Derrius Guice ran for 252 yards in a mauling of Arkansas.
The two most prolific single-game rushing performances in Tigers lore have now both come in 2016, and it wasn’t even the same guy.
“It’s a dream come true. It’s crazy, my first start. Johnny Manziel was my favorite player growing up. It’s ironic that I get my first start at Kyle Field. It’s awesome.”
— Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson, mistaking coincidence for irony
- When Week 11 began, two teams were alive in the West. A ridiculous six teams still had a chance in the East. But in Saturday’s aftermath, Alabama has now clinched the West. In the East, it’s down to Florida and Tennessee. Winning at LSU next week gives the division to the Gators.
- The Crimson Tide have arguably the most illustrious history of any program in college football. But before Saturday, no player in ‘Bama annals had thrown for 300 yards and run for 100 in the same game. Hurts did so against Mississippi State on what was a breakout day.
- Four of the top 10 rushers in the SEC hail from Kentucky and LSU. For the Wildcats, Williams is second (1,025 yards) and Snell is tied for seventh (854). For the Tigers, Guice is fifth (881) and Fournette is 10th (803). South Carolina doesn’t have a rusher in the Top 20.
- It’s been a down year in the conference at quarterback, although the future is bright. Four true freshmen started Saturday at the game’s most important position: Hurts, Patterson, Bentley and Georgia’s Jacob Eason. They went a combined 3-1 with an aggregate TD-to-INT ratio of 6-to-3.
- With another sack Saturday, Tennessee’s Derek Barnett is the first defender in the league to get to double digits. He now has an even 10.0. The 6-foot-3, 265-pounder is also atop the list with 16.0 tackles for loss and continues to make a case for defensive player of the year.
- Two weeks remain in the regular season, and 13 of the 14 teams in the SEC have a shot at bowl eligibility. Missouri, just 3-7, is the only program already guaranteed to be home for the holidays. Both 4-6, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt each have to win their last two contests.