Winners and losers after SEC Week 4: Defenses, Mac, and Arkansas Sam
SEC Week 4 was the return of the defense. A week ago, we lamented that the SEC as turning into the grown-up version of the Big 12. Not so fast. Defenses were key in Week 4 — no defeated team scored more than 24 points, and teams like Arkansas, Kentucky, and Texas A&M rode tough defenses to grinding victories. So don’t be shocked if our SEC winners seem a little defensive.
We could have picked Najee Harris (152 rushing yards) or DaVonta Smith (167 receiving yards and two scores) or even the Crimson Tide’s defense, which pitched a second-half shutout. But how about the signal caller? After his first pass of the game was intercepted, one could anticipate the avalanche of stories of how Jones is overrated and is just a game manager for an Alabama team that needs a superior QB. Nope. Jones WAS the superior QB. After that initial pick, he went 24 for 31 for 417 yards and 4 touchdowns. He might not be Joe Burrow, but Jones is a Heisman Trophy candidate and it looks like Clemson is the only foe that might have a shot at Alabama.
The South Carolina junior DB picked a fine time to get his first two career interceptions. Horn’s first half interception came with South Carolina already down 9. That set up a 29-yard scoring drive to draw the Gamecocks back into the game. His second-half grab included a 34 yard return to the Auburn 8, which set up another score. He also had a nice break-up on a 3rd down pass in the red zone. South Carolina was outgained by 184 yards, but gained a critical win, in large part because of Horn’s two huge field-flipping plays.
With the offense struggling, Kentucky’s defense contributed back-to-back pick sixes to create a two-score advantage in the second quarter. Tennessee never rallied. Kelvin Joseph is showing the skill set that made him an All-SEC pick for many before he played a game in Lexington. Linebacker Jamin Davis’s 85-yard interception return for a score was the cherry on top of a 12-tackle sundae. Kentucky hadn’t won in Knoxville since 1984 but UK’s defense — which outscored the Vols offense — made sure that skid ended.
Texas A&M defense
By allowing one offensive touchdown (Mississippi State also scored on a pick-six), and holding the Bulldogs to minus-2 rushing yards, Texas A&M shut down the Mike Leach Air Raid attack. A&M forced two turnovers, kept the Bulldog receivers in front of them and got a toehold above the bunch of 2-2 teams in the SEC.
Sam Pittman and Barry Odom
Arkansas really should be 3-1. But Pittman — a not-exceptionally-popular SEC hire — and Odom, his defensive coordinator who was a beleaguered former head coach from another meh SEC program, deserve a ton of credit. It’s one thing to come to town spouting about how a good attitude and belief in the team concept will create immediate improvement. It’s another to make it happen. This Arkansas defense might be the story of the SEC season (other than Alabama). Which reminds me…
The coaches can put you in position, but six picks (including 3 by freshman DB Hudson Clark), two pick-sixes, and a 19-tackle day for linebacker Grant Morgan? There’s some Xs and Os in there, but a tip of the hat is also due to the Jimmys and Joes. It’s worth bearing in mind that all this came against an Ole Miss offense that had put up 42 points on Kentucky and 48 on Alabama in its previous two games.
It was not a brilliant statistical day for the Kentucky offense, which managed less than 300 total yards and struggled badly in the first half. But Wilson quietly became the first UK quarterback since Derrick Ramsey in the mid 1970s to post wins at Florida and at Tennessee. Wilson’s gameplan is always going to be low-risk, containing dual-threat rewards. He was 12 for 15 passing for 101 yards and a score. Frankly, some of his best throws were balls that his receivers either couldn’t haul in or couldn’t catch inbounds. Wilson also rushed for 32 yards and helped keep Kentucky calm on a record-setting day in Knoxville.
Mississippi Passing Games
The QBs at the two Mississippi schools combined to go 50 for 78 for 419 yards, 3 TDs, 7 interceptions and two lost fumbles.
So here’s the rub. Yes, both Matt Corral and the duo of MSU quarterbacks completed a ton of passes. They gained just under 5.4 yards per pass attempt. They also had nine turnovers. This calls to mind the old aphorism that there are 10 things that can happen on a forward pass and nine of them are bad. The gains were minimal, the risk was obviously much too large and two offenses that have looked brilliant at times spent Saturday shooting themselves in the foot.
Tennessee and Auburn
UT and Auburn were two teams that looked to be above the fray of the middle of the SEC pack. But both teams are playing with quarterbacks and gameplans that seem ill-fitted to each other. Tennessee has probably come to the end of the Jarrett Guarantano road. Meanwhile, Auburn has Bo Nix so confused that, on the last drive, he was trying to do some bizarre Fran Tarkenton impersonation while the clock ran out. Jordan Rogers did an excellent break down on some of Auburn’s offensive issues. While the X and O issues are fairly intricate, the end result really isn’t. It’s just bad football.
Mississippi State punt protection
In a two week span when your offense has scored seven points, you really, really don’t need to give up free plays like this, and pin your defense at its own 1 yard line. Tucker Day never had a chance on this play. Much like State in the game.
Nick Saban’s former assistants
Everyone keeps waiting for one of Saban’s former assistant coaches to grab the first victory over him. Keep waiting. The second half of Alabama’s win over Georgia again demonstrated that Saban is playing chess while Kirby Smart (and most other coaches) are playing checkers.
Sure, Alabama’s offense is loaded. It’s a little different playing the Tide than playing Auburn or Arkansas or Tennessee. But after a timely sack on Alabama’s first second-half drive, Georgia had no answer the rest of the way. Jones’s 90-yard pass to Jaylen Waddle flipped the switch and it was all Alabama from there. Look, the Bulldogs offense didn’t quite do enough. But they rushed for 4.5 yards per carry and put up 24 first half points. Defense was a key for Georgia — and when it mattered, Alabama took over the game with little resistance. Alabama was 6 for 11 on third downs, which also meant they only needed third down 11 times en route to 564 total yards.