Week 12 SEC report card: Coaches drawing heat at Arkansas, LSU
The SEC’s Week 12 report card:
Mississippi State: A
The Bulldogs’ 51-50 win wasn’t just about Dak Prescott and his career-high 508 passing yards. Mississippi State’s record-setting quarterback was undoubtedly the star of the show Saturday, but his receivers deserve some acclaim as well. De’Runnya Wilson made tough grabs in traffic, Brandon Holloway covered huge chunks of real estate after the catch, and Fred Ross did a little of both.
Quarterback Drew Barker was so-so in his first career start, but the Wildcats receive high marks in every other aspect of Saturday’s 58-10 pummeling of Charlotte. Behind a dominant performance from the offensive line, Kentucky ran for 415 yards and six touchdowns, including 165 from Jojo Kemp and 140 from Stanley Williams. The win keeps the Wildcats’ bowl hopes alive headed into the Louisville game.
After the game, coach Jim McElwain said his team played with the energy of a cold, dead, fish. We can think of no better way to describe the lifeless performance of the Florida offense in a 20-14 overtime (overtime!) win over Florida Atlantic. The Gators’ struggles on the offensive line continued against the 31-point underdogs, and Treon Harris played poorly under the constant pressure. He was sacked five times, including one that resulted in a fumble recovery in the end zone for Florida Atlantic. There were some positives to be found in the dismal performance, though. Kelvin Taylor gamely found a way to gain 98 yards on 25 carries, and freshman Antonio Callaway again flashed electric talent on a 53-yard touchdown reception.
Texas A&M: A
Sure, Vanderbilt has been terrible on offense this year, so for the cynical, this grade comes with a caveat. But the Aggies have played plenty of bad offensive teams in the last decade or so, and this is the first time they’ve shut one out since 2004, so kudos are deserved. Led by a strong game from true freshman linebacker Richard Moore, Texas A&M held Vanderbilt to 148 yards of total offense, including just 23 through the air.
South Carolina: F
A bad season got unspeakably worse for the Gamecocks on Saturday, as The Citadel rushed its way to a 23-22 upset with 350 yards on the ground. The Gamecocks actually didn’t play terrible during the middle third of the game, but an awful start put them in a first-half hole and a bad finish gave way to a 56-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter that proved to be the game winner.
Even against lesser opponents, returning two punts for touchdowns — as Cyrus Jones did in the Tide’s 56-6 win over Charleston Southern — is pretty rare. Jones is the first player in school history to do so, according to Alabama records, which date back to 1944.
Bret Bielema is catching flak today for the decision to play for the game-winning field goal in the waning moments of what turned out to be a 51-50 loss against Mississippi State. After moving into scoring range riding the red-hot arm of Brandon Allen, the Hogs decelerated with three straight runs, forcing Mississippi State to use all its timeouts to preserve about 40 seconds of game time. All sounds pretty standard, right? It was until Beniquez Brown whipped his man inside and slapped down the would-be go-ahead field goal, lifting Mississippi State to a thrilling win.
Justifiable gripes can be made in hindsight. The Hogs could have stayed aggressive and trusted the senior quarterback with seven touchdown passes on the night to win the game—or at least avoid disaster.
Bielema instead chose to play it by the book, which is understandable. Can you imagine the virtual carnage wrought if Mississippi State’s constant pressure had resulted in a blind side strip sack? Many of the same second-guessers this morning would be asking why he risked it when a chip shot field goal would’ve given Arkansas the lead, and likely the win.
The Tigers stunning in-season decline now includes three straight losses and, according to reports, could result in the ouster of one of the SEC’s winningest coaches. It’s startling that Les Miles finds himself in this position, but given the context of a slow and steady decline since 2011 and this year’s freefall, maybe it shouldn’t be. Miles deserves credit for what he’s done at LSU, but he also deserves blame for what he hasn’t. Right now, LSU is an undisciplined, unfocused football team with too little depth in crucial positions and no apparent idea of what it wants to be.
The conference avoided disaster when Georgia and Florida squeaked past lower-tier instate opponents, but the SEC East gets a failing grade overall. The division winner looks imminently vulnerable, and only Tennessee looks substantially better than the last-place team in the West.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss’ convincing win over LSU means we’ll enter the final week of the season with some drama remaining in the West. Of course, an Alabama win over a 6-5 Auburn team would put an end to that and send the Tide back to Atlanta, but the Rebels still have a prayer.