SEC's 13 biggest takeaways of Week 4
Week 4 is now in the books, and 33 percent of the season is already gone. Don’t blink, because the best regular season in all of sports will be gone before you know it. Relish it.
Let’s get right down to business in the SEC. Here are the biggest takeaways from Week 4:
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Embarrassing day for the SEC East: Last week SDS talked about the 2014 SEC West being the strongest division in college football history, and the chasm between the West and the East has never been greater. Yesterday, it reared its ugly head again. Several of you tried to argue that perception isn’t reality, but now, you have no argument. Missouri got embarrassed by a very average Indiana team at home, and the Tigers could fall straight out of the top 25. Florida gave up the most total yards (645) in school history and was completely outclassed by Alabama. South Carolina struggled on the road against Vanderbilt and was lucky to escape as winners. Mississippi State and Arkansas could both compete for the East division.
Divisional dominance: Are all seven SEC West teams worthy to be ranked in the top 25? You could make that argument right now, and we’ll find out today in the AP Top 25 poll. Today’s polls will feature six SEC West teams, with Mississippi State jumping — perhaps — into the top 20 with their win over LSU. Arkansas isn’t likely to be ranked, but IF the Hogs beat the Aggies next Saturday, all seven West teams will be ranked in the Week 6 AP Poll. Think about it. This division is absolutely nasty, and the way things are shaping up around the country, it’s becoming more likely the West could get two teams into the College Football Playoff. The East be damned.
STATEment: All week we heard about the feel-good story of Mississippi State going into Death Valley and knocking off LSU, but did you think it would actually happen? The chances were much greater than Florida going into Bryant-Denny and beating Alabama, but the way Mississippi State dismantled LSU through three quarters was the most impressive happening of Saturday, and it wasn’t even close. MSU is for real, and Dak Prescott for Heisman is for real. It’s the first time MSU beat a ranked opponent on the road since 1986, and Dan Mullen was 2-21 against top 25 opponents prior to last night. Prescott combined for 373 yards and three touchdowns. His 56-yard touchdown run made Tim Tebow blush. Prescott is the same type of player Tebow was, but perhaps he’s better. Maybe it looks different, but that may be mostly due to Tebow having more talent around him. Geoff Collins’ defense held LSU to 2-13 on third downs, and it was only late after MSU was in full prevent mode that LSU made a comeback. The battle for the state of Mississippi could be much more than just bragging rights this season — it could be for the division. Did I just go there?
Big Game Blake: Tell me you expected that out of Blake Sims and you’re lying. Sims threw for the most yards ever at Bryant-Denny Stadium: 445 yards and four touchdowns. With two touchdown passes of 87 and 79 in the first quarter, you knew it was going to be a big day for the Bama offense. Amari Cooper caught 10 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns, and he’s solidified himself as a top five Heisman candidate in the country. Aside from Todd Gurley, who’s more suited right now? How about Lane Kiffin? For as much criticism and pure hate thrown his way, he’s leading Alabama’s offense to numbers they didn’t know existed under former coordinators Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier. The Tide put up 645 yards of total offense, with 449 of it coming through the air. Kiffin was toying with Will Muschamp’s defense and in full command. The scary thing is Alabama can play much better, as the Tide coughed it up four times.
Is LSU the worst team in the West? You didn’t think you’d be asking that question this year, did you? The quarterback battle between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris just got much more interesting, and Jennings could have lost the battle with his very average performance. He finished 13 of 26 for 157 yards, while Harris completed 6 of 9 for 140 yards and two touchdowns, which led the mini-comeback to end the game. When LSU isn’t running the ball, the offense sputters, and the Tigers were held to just 89 rushing yards, getting them completely out of their comfort zone. Usually, LSU contains dual-threat quarterbacks, but Dak Prescott really got the best of the Tigers. It was a stunning performance.
Don’t overreact: Many have said Auburn didn’t look good Thursday night and are overreacting to a close road win at Kansas State. The defense stayed true to form with bend but don’t break in the red zone. While I’m not overreacting to the offensive performance, concerns remain in the passing game. Gus Malzahn is smart enough to not force anything, and Auburn needs to get back to doing what they do best: running the football. I’m still not convinced — although I do trust Malzahn — that Nick Marshall is the best quarterback on his own team with the explosive wide receiver options. Marshall is the best option if the Tigers can run the football. Remember when Mississippi State almost beat Auburn last year before the Tigers caught fire? The Kansas State win could be that game this year. Auburn is fine, but they need to get back to dominating the running game.
SEC East favorite? Troy was a poor excuse for a football team, but the Bulldogs are loaded with elite freshmen. Sony Michel rushed for 155 yards and three touchdowns, and he’s solidifying himself as a formidable one-two punch with Todd Gurley. Michel reminds me so much of Knowshon Moreno, and he scored on runs of six, eight and 18 yards. But how about Isaiah McKenzie? McKenzie returned a 52-yard punt for a touchdown, and Mark Richt should be telling Mike Bobo to get him the football more. I still want to see McKenzie more involved on offense, running reverses and jet-sweeps. If you look at Georgia’s schedule you could make a strong argument the Bulldogs are the East favorites, despite losing to South Carolina. The Gamecocks hold the head-to-head, but how much has that mattered since 2010? The winner hasn’t even made it to Atlanta. So, there’s that. I’m still not sold on Hutson Mason and his lack of arm strength.
Winning Ugly: Get used to it, South Carolina fans: you need to embrace ugly. Steve Spurrier may even like ugly after this season. Vanderbilt returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, and the East’s worst offense managed 34 points against the East’s worst defense. Dylan Thompson threw for three touchdowns, and Pharoh Cooper caught 10 passes for 114 yards. However, Brison Williams’ pick-six was the play of the game. A huge play at a huge time. South Carolina is nowhere near the team it wants to be, and with Mizzou coming to town next week, the defense has to make even bigger strides.
Overmatched: Texas A&M shredded SMU, but the biggest story was the defense. The much maligned unit made eight sacks against SMU’s putrid offense, and none of them were by freshman sensation Myles Garrett. SMU is one of the worst teams in college football…maybe the worst. The Aggies are 4-0 for the first time since 2006. That didn’t even happen under Johnny Manziel. Kenny Hill threw two more touchdowns, and he continues his big start. Next week’s game against Arkansas is one Hogs’ fans have had circled, and this one is looking much more interesting than anyone anticipated during the preseason.
Getting torched: Florida’s getting good at it. The Gators’ defense was supposed to be the strength, but it was anything but. In fact, it was the worst Gator defense, well, ever, as the unit yielded more total yards than when Nebraska hung a 62 spot against Steve Spurrier in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl. Will Muschamp will really start to feel the heat now. Last year, it was the offense struggling mightily. This year, it’s his defense that’s getting torched. Yes, Jeff Driskel continues to struggle, throwing for just 93 yards, one touchdown and two INTs. The problem I have with this game is this: Muschamp knew the offense had to be aggressive and attack to win this game. The Gators started doing just that to start. Alabama started turning it over, and Florida found they were actually in the football game. Then, Muschamp proceeded to play it too safe and got way too conservative in the second half when trailing 28-21. Florida ran three straight power plays with Matt Jones and punted. That was one of the turning points, along with Alabama’s 3rd and 23 converted screen pass. That’s Muschamp’s defense? That’s Muschamp’s defense. Florida is still a pretender.
Looking ahead? What a complete bust. Missouri laid a giant egg against Indiana. Instead of being 4-0 and heading into South Carolina as a top 20 team, Mizzou is now scratching its head before it even enters conference play. The Tigers will likely drop out of the top 25 before playing Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Whether they were looking ahead or what, the Tigers looked bored and uninspired. The offensive line was a huge question mark. The Tigers are still in the East race, but we’ll see how they respond after getting the wind sucked right out of their sails. Just to put this into perspective: Indiana lost to Bowling Green.
Getting hot: You don’t want to play Arkansas right now. This team is hot, and Texas A&M will get its chance next week to stop the Hogs. Talk about balance: the Hogs threw for 215 yards and rushed for 212 yards. Brandon Allen was very sharp, and Korliss Marshall was spectacular…and he’s not even the first or second option at running back. Keon Hatcher finally showed why he’s a weapon. The Hogs finished 10 of 14 on third downs with no turnovers. Say what you want about Arkansas, but this team is dangerous…and getting better. Perhaps the final blow to the SEC East could come later this season when Arkansas tangles with Georgia. Would you rather have Bret Bielema or Will Muschamp right now? Exactly.
Player of the Week: In a losing effort, Darrius Sims returned two kickoff returns in the same game…and still lost. Sims returned kickoffs from 91 and 100, and it was spectacular. Vanderbilt is improving, and next week’s game against Kentucky will be very interesting, as both teams are fighting for bowl bids.