SEC winners and losers after Week 7: Florida and Arkansas up, UGA down
SEC Week 7 was definitely a week with a clear divide between winners and losers. It was very much a black-and-white week. Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas had good weeks. Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Tennessee had bad weeks. Georgia had the most to lose. Time to dive in a little deeper and see who had a week to remember or a week to forget.
The vaunted Georgia defense lay in ruins thanks to Trask’s 474 yards passing and 4 touchdowns. He threw a pick six but it didn’t matter in the end. There is absolutely no reason Trask shouldn’t get legitimate recognition as a Heisman Trophy candidate, particularly on a night when he led Florida to a much more plausible shot at a College Football Playoff spot. Yes, Mac Jones does have slightly better numbers, but nobody has meant more to a potential CFP team than Trask has to the Gators.
On the other hand, Pitts might well be the SEC player who has done the most to improve his NFL stock. Anybody who watches the tight end dominate the SEC on a weekly basis doesn’t have to work hard to imagine him tearing up the seams of NFL defenses for years to come. He didn’t have a huge game against Georgia and got knocked out of the game on a big hit, but his two big catches just helped remind folks what an amazing season he has had. With 8 touchdown grabs, Pitts is on pace to seriously challenge Reidel Anthony’s UF record for touchdown catches in a season (18).
Pool and Morgan
Similarly, there may not be any two players who are more a testimony to their coach’s vision for a program than Bumper Pool and Grant Morgan of Arkansas. Pool showed in a dismal 2019 season that he was a player to watch. He had 94 tackles and 5 passes broken up, and generally was a highlight of a miserable season with a miserable team. He was a 4-star recruiting out of high school for the Razorbacks. Arkansas coach Sam Pittman knew what he had in Pool.
On the other hand, Grant Morgan is a 5-foot-11, 222-pound senior linebacker who had 101 tackles in three seasons at Arkansas. Morgan chose Arkansas over Air Force, Central Arkansas, and Tulsa. He was more famous for being Drew Morgan’s little brother than as a player in his own right. At UA, he wasn’t a bad player, but he wasn’t a game changer either. But Pittman, Barry Odom and crew saw something different in the guy.
Apparently, what they saw was another magnet for the football, because the tackle leaders atop the SEC standings look like this: 1. Morgan, Arkansas, 70, 2. Pool, Arkansas, 64. Pool’s 5.5 tackles for loss and Morgan’s 5 are also in the SEC’s top 12. In a few ways (like Pool), Sam Pittman and the Razorbacks got a little lucky. In others, (like Morgan) they’ve simply made lemonade from lemons. And are winning with it.
Yes, both the current and the former Florida QB are here. Franks won’t blow anybody away with his numbers and he won’t win any major postseason awards. But the funny thing is, his numbers have always been pretty good. Now, the guy who looked scattered and lost, finding ways to lose big games, has turned into the coolest hand in the room.
With Arkansas trailing 13-0 against Tennessee, and all Franks did was drop a trio of third-quarter touchdowns and game-manage the Razorbacks home. And he has done it while avoiding the kind of mistakes that submerged his Florida career. At UF, Franks had 38 passing touchdowns against 17 interceptions, just over a 2:1 ratio. At Arkansas, it’s 14 touchdowns to 3 interceptions, just shy of 5:1. That might be the biggest difference.
Spiller is 2nd in the SEC in rushing and he might show up on milk cartons outside of College Station. The Aggies have a good thing going. Quarterback Kellen Mond plays not unlike Franks does for Arkansas — managing the game, avoiding mistakes, keeping the Aggies in decent shape. Then Spiller pops a couple of big-time plays and sends the opponent back to the bus.
Spiller averages 6.2 yards per carry and has topped 100 yards in four of Texas A&M’s six games. But here’s an interesting deep dive number. In A&M’s one-possession games, Spiller has rushed for an other-worldly 8.3 yards per carry. He has been good all around … but when the game is on the line, he has been even better. Which is part of why A&M is 5-1.
Georgia’s playoff hopes
Saturday’s game was an obvious statement of Georgia’s season. The Bulldogs have looked solid to otherworldly against bad teams, but have fallen apart against the two best teams they will play.
Much of it does come back to the passing game — Stetson Bennett went 23 for 56 passing against Alabama and Florida combined, for 347 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. The Georgia defense has had its issues, but honestly, many of those stem from an all-time season of bad injury luck. But it’s hard to imagine Georgia getting back into the playoff hunt, for many reasons.
Mississippi State’s run game
When the failings of the Air Raid come up, the passing game that usually gets hammered. And with good reason — the Bulldogs are fighting with Kentucky for the SEC cellar in pass efficiency despite completing 67% of their passes. MSU’s 14 interceptions will do that. But the running game hasn’t just been bad. It’s been historically bad.
It’s not that State’s 21.5 rushing yards per game (yes, you read that right) is last in the SEC. Vandy, in 13th place, is averaging 115.6 rushing yards per game. Sure, part of the issue is that State doesn’t run. They’re at 100 rushes to 324 passes on the season. But 1.3 yards per carry? A 20-yard rush as the long play of the season? Just absolutely brutal. Kind of like Saturday’s 11 rushes for minus-22 yards (long gain of 4). Against Vandy.
Tennessee’s QB situation
The old axiom is that the team that has two QBs has no QBs. Tennessee had three QBs against Arkansas, but the axiom seemed to hold true. After keeping Jarrett Guarantano on one of the longest QB leashes imaginable, Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt pulled him early in the second half against Arkansas. Admittedly, Guarantano did little to justify staying in (5 for 8 for 42 yards passing). Backup Brian Maurer continued the parade of Vol three and outs (0 for 4 passing, 2 carries for 3 yards).
Down 24-13, Pruitt finally went to freshman Harrison Bailey, who threw some nice passes against a sagging Arkansas pass defense (6 for 9 for 65 yards), but also threw two picks deep in Arkansas territory when the Hogs tightened up. Tennessee felt like a rudderless ship, and much of that started with the parade of signal callers.
An ugly, ugly home loss to a very solid but not exactly dominant Texas A&M team won’t help anything in Columbia. Ryan Hilinski (finally) saw some snaps, but just about nothing was going right for South Carolina. At this point, Muschamp is 28-29 at South Carolina. This looks like a 2-8 or 3-7 season, which will drop him to 28-33 or 29-32.
Since winning the Outback Bowl and nine total games in his second season, 2017, Muschamp has gone 13-18. In the short term, the coronavirus pandemic might save Muschamp’s job. You won’t see any additional empty seats or hear significant numbers of booing Gamecocks fans calling for his head. But the long-term future is getting about as bleak as his team’s chances late in the 48-3 loss to the Aggies.