Week 9 brought the first almost-complete SEC slate in a long while. That means plenty of ups and downs, which is good news for those of us who chronicle those things. Here’s the count of the winners and losers of SEC Week 9.


Alabama WR DeVonta Smith

Nobody talks about this guy in the Heisman discussions. It’s Mac Jones this, Kyle Trask that. But quietly, Smith has been a dominant player on the nation’s best team. On the night he set a new SEC receiving touchdown mark, the senior sent his 2020 totals to 65 catches for 903 yards and 10 touchdowns. That’s second in the SEC in catches and yards (to Ole Miss’s Elijah Moore) and first in touchdowns. Alabama remains first in the conference in scoring. The most efficient passing attack in the league leans heavily on Smith.

Georgia QB J.T. Daniels

There’s often an assumption that a QB change is something fans call for without reasonable hope of any real impact. Not this time. Daniels was electric, passing for 401 yards and 4 scores in Georgia’s win over Mississippi State. He brought back the downfield passing game and it suddenly made the Georgia passing game look more productive than it had all season. The only question for Kirby Smart is why this took so long.

The league’s bottom teams

It has been a tough SEC slog for some of the teams near the bottom of the SEC, but many of those teams played surprisingly well on Saturday. No, Vanderbilt didn’t upset Florida, but the Commodores were within a touchdown at halftime and had an excellent day passing with Ken Seals. Mississippi State did a great job playing shorthanded at Georgia and giving the hosts some headaches. South Carolina was scrappy against Missouri. None of those teams won, but each of them showed significant fortitude in doing battle on Saturday, instead of getting thumped by 40.

Missouri assistant David Gibbs

Position coaches generally want to be coordinators. That said, they don’t want the assignment thrust on them on game week because COVID-19 contact tracing protocols sideline the regular coordinator. But that’s what happened in Missouri, where defensive backs coach Gibbs — ahem, defensive coordinator Gibbs called a masterpiece in the Tigers’ 17-10 win over South Carolina. It earned him the game ball and a shout out from us.

Auburn defense

A 2020 lesson in persistence. If at first, a dumb penalty wipes out your game-changing play…

Try, try again.


Kentucky’s defense

Giving up 500 yards to Alabama happens. This game transitioned from ugly to embarrassing when the depleted Kentucky defense just didn’t stop Alabama. The Crimson Tide went to their usual playbook. They got ahead big, they substituted liberally, and Kentucky just didn’t stop them. In Bama’s previous blowout of the year, a 41-0 win over Mississippi State, Bama led by 27 at the half then added 14 second-half points. Kentucky’s short-handed defense trailed 28-3 at the half, and opened the second half with an interception and a three-and-out. After a pick-six thrown by Terry Wilson, UK’s defensive possessions went touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. Those last two drives consisted of 10 running plays each. That’s how you lose 63-3.

Tennessee’s QB situation

Jarrett Guarantano made the crucial mistake that ultimately beat the Vols, then watched Harrison Bailey look quite competent off the bench. And of course, following the game, coach Jeremy Pruitt endorsed Guarantano as the best QB for Tennessee.

As noted above in the J.T. Daniels comments, every fan base loves the backup QB. In Knoxville, it’s hard to imagine Bailey doing worse with an extended shot than Guarantano has done.

South Carolina’s coaching situation

In didn’t take long for Hugh Freeze to emerge as public favorite No. 1 for the South Carolina coaching job after Will Muschamp was fired. All the traits are there: Offensive guru, can succeed in the SEC, has something to prove after an embarrassing exile from Ole Miss. The only problem is that Freeze says he isn’t interested. And he said it quickly and loudly. Freeze’s Liberty squad played a clunker of a 15-14 loss to North Carolina State that disrupted a potential perfect season as an FBS independent. But for South Carolina, the stain of rejection is worse than a bad loss. The Gamecocks don’t want this search to resemble Tennessee in the Jeremy Pruitt hiring, working on the second choice off the second choice until they’re stuck with their new coach. The trial balloon on Freeze ended up being more like a hand grenade.

SEC officials

It’s a tradition like no other. Not the Masters, but SEC officials needlessly injecting themselves into plays. This week’s exhibit is the targeting ejection of Arkansas freshman Jalen Catalon, one of the top tacklers in the league. Watch the video. Catalon goes out of his way to avoid targeting. He turns his body. He doesn’t make contact with the opposing player’s head at all. It’s understandable that in the heat of live action, these calls get missed. Officials had a chance to look at this on replay but they still decided somehow that this is targeting. That’s mind-numbing. Just another week in the SEC.