The Hangover: Nuggets and tidbits from Week 9 in the SEC
Several coaches in the SEC came into the 2016 campaign on the proverbial hot seat, which is always a topic of preseason conversation.
However, most of said seats are considerably cooler two-thirds of the way through the schedule. From Auburn’s Gus Malzahn to Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin to Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, all of them are higher in the standings than anticipated.
The hottest seat in the conference at this point could belong to Butch Jones at Tennessee. Clearly on the right path the past three years — from five to seven to nine wins — the Volunteers have now lost three straight after a 24-21 upset at South Carolina. Favored to win the East, Jones and Co. have fallen and can’t get up.
It’s been a miserable year in the Magnolia State, as Ole Miss and Mississippi State have both disappointed. Still, Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen, respectively, have done too much at those schools to warrant a pink slip.
Program by program, here are some of the more memorable nuggets and tidbits that I scribbled into my Week 9 notebook.
In one of the more predictable results of the season, Auburn’s strong rushing offense steamrolled the weak rushing defense of Ole Miss.
Tigers running back Kamryn Pettway, who received exactly zero attention during fall camp, is now the leading rusher in the league after a 30-carry, 237-yard, 1-touchdown performance in a 40-29 defeat of the Rebels.
The 6-foot, 240-pounder is up to 933 yards in seven games, surpassing what Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb has done — 855 yards, to be exact — in eight contests. Since Kerryon Johnson got injured early in the Mississippi State game, Pettway (below) has been the workhouse with 169, 192 and now 237 yards in Malzahn’s run-heavy system.
It took Roc Thomas transferring, Jovon Robinson getting kicked off the team and Johnson coming up lame for Pettway to be the bell cow of the ground game on The Plains. No matter how it happened, he’s a nightmare to tackle.
Pettway and Webb face each other in Week 10 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Whomever wins that battle might win the rushing title, too.
Florida defensive end Jabari Zuniga was unblockable in a 24-10 victory over Georgia at The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
A relatively unheralded three-star recruit from the class of 2015, the 6-foot-3, 243-pounder was only credited with 3 tackles against the Bulldogs. Nevertheless, two of them were behind the line of scrimmage.
More impressive, he recorded 4 of the Gators’ ridiculous 16 quarterback hurries of the Bulldogs’ Jacob Eason. While he didn’t get to experience the joy of a sack, Zuniga was too much to handle for UGA’s porous offensive line. As a result, the Dawgs had relatively little success running or throwing all game long.
Only a redshirt freshman, Zuniga does have 5.0 sacks on the season and has the potential to be a dominant pass rusher.
The aforementioned O-line for the Dawgs, which was pitiful throughout the Cocktail Party, again failed to open holes for Nick Chubb.
That being said, it’s fair to wonder if something is wrong with Georgia’s best ball carrier. Prior to his 2015 knee injury, you could book him for 100-plus no matter the opponent. But after 9 rushes for a paltry 20 yards in Jacksonville, he’s run for triple digits only once in seven tries since the season opener.
Chubb averaged 7.1 yards per carry as a freshman and then 8.1 as a sophomore. He’s currently at 4.8, which is alarming.
Kentucky came into Week 9 a middle-of-the-pack rushing offense, ranked seventh in the SEC with an even 197 yards per game.
But the Wildcats ran wild in an eye-opening 35-21 domination of Missouri, as the two-headed monster of Benny Snell Jr. and Stanley “Boom” Williams joined forces to rush for 374 yards and 3 touchdowns on 57 attempts.
Snell nearly doubled his season high with 38 carries. Becoming a bigger part of the scheme on a weekly basis, he now has 128 and 192 yards on the ground in his last two outings. Williams, who also set a season high with 19 rushes, has very quietly jumped his yards-per-attempt average up to a robust 7.5.
The duo might be in for some tougher sledding next week, though. Even in defeat, Georgia limited Florida to 2.1 yards per carry.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Ole Miss was leading a quality opponent in the second half but blew it in the end.
Ignore the fact that Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly was 36-of-59 passing for 465 yards with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. His late INT helped Auburn turn a tenuous 33-29 advantage into a 40-29 final on the road.
Mississippi has to be the worst tackling team in the conference — probably by a wide margin, too. No question about it, Pettway is a freight train with legs and incredibly difficult to bring to the turf down after down. Still, too many Rebs defenders gave half-hearted efforts when they had a chance to make a stop.
Freeze’s (above) squad does exactly one thing well in 2016: throw it all over the yard. They can’t run it. They can’t stop the run. They can’t stop the pass, either. There might not be a more unbalanced team in the league.
At 3-5 and with three SEC dates remaining on the schedule, it’s not unreasonable to think that Ole Miss stays home for bowl season.
Speaking of bad defense, Mississippi State gave up 41 points and 627 yards to FCS foe Samford at Davis Wade Stadium.
Samford, which only managed 30 points and 590 yards in a win over Western Carolina the week before at home, threw for 468, ran for 159 more and scored at least one TD in all four quarters. Where was MSU’s D?
The Bulldogs — Samford is also the Bulldogs, by the way — were mediocre defensively already, but they fell off dramatically with D-tackle A.J. Jefferson out of the lineup. His presence in the trenches makes all the difference, as he can shed blocks with ease and set up camp in the opponent’s backfield.
Linebacker Richie Brown continues to rack up tackles, but he’s not making the impact-type plays we saw a year ago.
First-year Missouri coach Barry Odom got the job in large part because he was an extension of the retiring Gary Pinkel.
But the Tigers look nothing like the overachievers they were so often under Pinkel. Trailing a blasé Kentucky team 35-7 in the fourth quarter, Mizzou needed two late TDs to make the scoreboard respectable. Think about how poorly you have to play to get blown out at home with no turnovers and two takeaways.
Quarterback Drew Lock is broken and needs to be fixed, plus a once-proud defense has been reduced to Swiss cheese.
Making his second career start, South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley is now 2-0 after upsetting Tennessee 24-21 in Columbia.
There was no reason to be overly impressed with Bentley’s debut seven days earlier, as he defeated a UMass squad that is among the worst at the FBS level. The Volunteers, on the other hand, were a Top 10 program not too long ago.
Bentley put together another sound statistical performance, completing 15-of-20 passes for 167 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs. Unlike Perry Orth and Brandon McIlwain, who had been sharing the QB position for the Gamecocks, Bentley is making use of receiver Deebo Samuel, who caught 8 passes for a second consecutive week.
McIlwain was believed to be the future for this program. Perhaps he gets a look at another position based on what Bentley has done.
This was supposed to be the year for Tennessee. After a third consecutive loss, a division title is now likely out of reach.
Even with seven extra days to lick their wounds after back-to-back losses to Texas A&M and Alabama, the Volunteers were again their own worst enemies in what can only be described as a shocking defeat to the ‘Cocks.
Quarterback Joshua Dobbs (above) was a turnover machine once again, throwing a pair of interceptions and also losing a fumble. He has now been picked off 11 times in 2016, far and away the most in the SEC, plus the Vols have fallen to minus-5 in turnover margin — only Kentucky is worse at minus-11 — on the season.
Breaking their 11-year curse against Florida in Week 4 produced very little momentum. If not for a miracle Hail Mary in Athens, the Vols would be losers of four in a row. Meanwhile, the Gators remain atop the East.
Again, this was supposed to be the year for UT. Jones isn’t on the hot seat yet. He will be heading into 2017, though.
Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk leads the conference in catches with 54, but few of them have been of the highlight-reel variety.
The sophomore reminded everyone just now explosive he can be Saturday in a 52-10 beatdown of New Mexico State, albeit on special teams. Kirk scored on a pair of punt returns, the first one from 70 yards out and the second from 73.
In the passing game, he was again bottled up to some degree. While he did register 5 receptions and scored on a 3-yarder from quarterback Trevor Knight, he only averaged 7.2 yards per catch. His season average is just 8.3, which is curious because he can be so brilliant in the open field with the ball in his hands.
Knight’s general inaccuracy as a passer could be partially responsible. He’s not hitting Kirk in stride often enough.
Three straight games, Ole Miss has allowed an opposing tailback to run for career-high yardage on the ground. First it was Rawleigh Williams III of Arkansas, who had 180 in Fayetteville. Then it was Leonard Fournette of LSU, who set a Tigers record with 284 in Baton Rouge. And then Pettway went for 237 in Oxford.
sharks ain't supposed to be on land anyway 🙄 pic.twitter.com/5ZYnK1PO82
— KD (@KDSZN) October 30, 2016
It might be time to retire this whole Landsharks thing. The plot for “Sharknado” is more believable than Mississippi’s rushing defense.
There have been 31 punt-return touchdowns among 128 teams at the FBS level. The SEC is responsible for 9. Of the four programs tied atop the national rankings with 3 TDs on punt returns, two are Alabama and Texas A&M.
Only five players in America have scored more than once on a punt return, and nobody has done it more than twice. With Kirk’s pair Saturday, he joins Eddie Jackson of the Crimson Tide as part of that quintet.
“It’s just frustrating. We couldn’t really get things going. I felt like it was always three- and-out and we weren’t getting in a rhythm or anything, so it feels pretty bad.”
— Georgia RB Nick Chubb after his 9-carry, 20-yard performance
- Missouri receiver J’Mon Moore looked like a breakout star with 8 catches for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns earlier this season against Georgia. But in his past three games against SEC competition, he has a total of 5 receptions for 43 yards and 0 TDs. Kentucky held him to 3 grabs for 12 yards with a long of 7.
- For the Wildcats, Williams and Snell are now third and eighth in the conference in rushing yards, respectively. The only other school to have two backs in the Top 10 is LSU, as Fournette is seventh and Derrius Guice is 10th.
- Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio is still undefeated as a starter, although he deserves less and less credit for it. His first throw of the game against Georgia was across his body late in the play over the middle of the field, which resulted in an easy INT for safety Dominick Sanders. His decision-making is questionable at best.
- Chubb, Sony Michel and Brian Herrien combined for a measly 22 yards on 11 carries in the first half. They finished the contest with 14 attempts for 26 yards, which means the trio only got three rushing attempts after intermission. Yes, Florida led the entire second half. At no point was the score out of hand, though.
- Knight connected on 15-of-24 passes for 204 yards with 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. At 62.5, it was the first time in eight games with Texas A&M that his completion percentage was north of 60. Previously, he’d been anywhere between 45.2 and 57.5 percent.
- With 7 points in the first quarter, 7 in the second, 3 in the third and then 7 in the fourth, South Carolina scored in all four periods for the first time this season.