Early impressions of every SEC game in Week 6
So here’s a weird thought.
At this time next week, a whole bunch of SEC teams will have already played half of their 2021 schedule.
See, told you it was weird.
Somehow, someway, we’re already nearing the halfway point of the 2021 schedule. Only 3 SEC teams (Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky) are undefeated. Does that hold true through the unofficial halfway point? Time will tell.
Each SEC unbeaten has an intriguing test. Georgia travels to Auburn to face a suddenly dynamic Bo Nix, Alabama travels to Texas A&M to face a suddenly anemic Aggie offense and Kentucky plays host to LSU, who is reeling after a late collapse in the Tiger Bowl.
Week 6 doesn’t have quite the same intrigue as that loaded Week 5 slate, but make no mistake, it’s plenty juicy … even without UConn and Vandy.
Here are my early impressions of each Week 6 game in the SEC:
Alabama vs. Texas A&M — I’m old enough to remember when A&M had an offensive blueprint to beat the Tide
It wasn’t that long ago that I had the Aggies penciled in to take down the Tide. Jimbo Fisher was going to become the first assistant to beat Nick Saban, College Station was going to be electric on Oct. 9 and the 2014 repeat season would be in full effect. Now, though? Man, I can’t picture A&M hitting 21 points against Alabama, especially after how much Ole Miss’ No. 1 offense struggled to sustain scoring drives. A&M ain’t Ole Miss. At least not offensively.
Is there anything A&M could do to stay on the field with Alabama? Perhaps it’s as simple as hoping that Florida’s game plan — run the ball and don’t worry about stretching the field — can work. The problem is that A&M doesn’t have the offensive line that Florida does. Also, I’d argue Fisher’s offensive game plan isn’t as flexible as Dan Mullen’s. This is setting up for A&M to get another tough dose of reality. This season torpedoed once Haynes King went down.
Georgia vs. Auburn — We’re not in the midst of the rise of Bo Nix … are we?
I’m not predicting Nix will lead the Tigers to an upset against Georgia. It feels awkward predicting anyone will score a touchdown against Nakobe Dean and Co. But shoot, Nix just because the first Auburn quarterback to win at LSU in the 21st century, and darn it if it wasn’t the best college game he’s ever played. He had Johnny Manziel levels of escapability. Against Georgia, Nix is going to have to be even better than he was on Saturday.
One would expect that Nix will be asked to keep pace with JT Daniels, though given the injury-plagued start to 2021, we should never rule out the possibility of Stetson Bennett IV taking those first snaps for UGA. That would change things. But regardless of who starts at quarterback for the Dawgs, Nix has a unique opportunity to add what would be the best regular season win of his career to his résumé. Yes, that includes the 2019 Iron Bowl. Am I betting on it? No, but I certainly didn’t bet on seeing the version of Nix we got on Saturday night just a week removed from his benching.
If he makes plays like this with Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt chasing him down, we’re in for an epic chapter to this rivalry.
The Bo Nix Experience 🚀#CFB
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 3, 2021
LSU vs. Kentucky — Can we process that Kentucky is favored to improve to 6-0?
I ask that question because there’s the macro perspective and the micro perspective. The macro perspective is that the Cats, who are 3.5-point home favorites against 2-loss LSU, are in the midst of what should be their second winning season in SEC play in the last 4 decades. Saturday isn’t just a chance to clinch bowl eligibility; there’s at least a path to a New Year’s 6 Bowl. Fresh off the first win against Florida in Lexington since 1986, Kentucky has to feel like a major weight is off its shoulders.
On a micro level, let’s process the fact that a team who was -9 in turnover margin entering Saturday just improved to 5-0, and it did so by nearly getting doubled up in total yards (ask Dan Mullen about the significance of that). The Cats played down to the wire against FCS Chattanooga, they put the ball on the ground 4 times against South Carolina and yet, here they are with a favorable matchup to hit 6-0. Can Josh Paschal and that Kentucky defense frustrate the horrendous LSU offensive line? Better yet, can the Kroger Field advantage force false start after false start again?
There’s a decent chance that Kentucky makes some baffling mistakes and it finds another way to win a game that goes down to the wire. Hey, Mark Stoops isn’t after style points, though. He’s after the program’s best start since 1950.
South Carolina vs. Tennessee — Consider this a first for the Josh Heupel era
That is, being a significant home favorite (-10) in SEC play. For what it’s worth, the Vols have looked like the better team compared to South Carolina. But how does he manage those expectations coming off an absolute beatdown of Mizzou? Do we see more of that same smash-mouth identity in the ground game? Somewhat quietly, South Carolina has the No. 24 defense in FBS right now. Tiyon Evans likely won’t see the running lanes that he saw in Columbia.
But then again, maybe this is going to become Tennessee’s identity moving forward. Hendon Hooker is more than capable of keeping the Vols afloat, and if he can avoid those costly turnovers, this is a game that Tennessee should win by multiple scores. A prime opportunity awaits Heupel to show that the Mizzou game wasn’t just the byproduct of a woeful run defense from the home team.
Vanderbilt vs. Florida — How do the Gators handle that second loss?
Lost in the shuffle of Florida’s first loss in Lexington since 1986 was the fact that for the first time in the Dan Mullen era, the Gators are essentially out of the division race in early October. It’s a little different than losing to Georgia on Halloween weekend but still having a path to a New Year’s 6 Bowl for the final month of the season. Two years ago when Florida suffered loss No. 2 in Jacksonville, Vandy watched an angry Florida team roll to a 56-0 beatdown.
Considering the spread is at Florida -39 this year, the oddsmakers are expecting a similar result. Apparently they aren’t believers that the UConn win was a program defining moment for the Commodores. For Florida, a flat start would indicate that perhaps there is a lack of focus after the Kentucky loss. Why? Well, a disciplined Florida team rolls all over Vandy. If that’s the case, we’ll see the Gators surpass 300 rushing yards with ease. But there’s no guarantee we’ll see a crisp game from Florida coming off the heartbreaker in Lexington.
North Texas vs. Mizzou — Eli Drinkwitz is at least trying to make adjustments
It’s interesting because Bryan Harsin fired his receivers coach after 4 games, and it was received like he was shifting blame. On Sunday, Drinkwitz fired defensive line coach Jethro Franklin after 5 games.
BREAKING: Missouri defensive line coach Jethro Franklin has been fired, a source confirmed to the Columbia Missourian Sunday.
— Emily Leiker (@emleiker) October 3, 2021
Why wasn’t it received like Harsin’s move? Well, because Mizzou allowed 308 rushing yards in its first 5 games. That’s, um, not gonna cut it. And with all due respect to Mizzou’s first 5 foes, none of them were world-beaters. Mizzou surely made them look like such, though, which is why the Tigers are now 0-3 vs. Power 5 competition.
The good news? Saturday isn’t Power 5 competition. It’s a North Texas team who is off to a 1-3 start. The Mean Green did average 207 rushing yards in those games, so would anyone really be surprised if Mizzou had another tough day slowing down the ground game? Drinkwitz might just fire a defensive coach a week if that continues.
Arkansas vs. Ole Miss — Don’t let disappointing Week 5 showings overshadow an excellent rematch
That is, Matt Corral against the Arkansas defense who intercepted him 6 times. Corral said that game was a defining moment in his career. Lane Kiffin’s decision to stick with him helped build up his confidence. Corral, to his credit, responded admirably to the issue that plagued him against Barry Odom’s defense. More specifically, Odom’s drop-8 coverage. Corral was vocal about learning the ins and outs of his reads in those spots. Up until Alabama, it paid dividends. Even against the Tide, it wasn’t that Corral was bad. The chunk plays just weren’t there. He still hasn’t thrown an interception this year.
How will Grant Morgan — he became the 1-armed bandit against Corral last year — and the Hog defense respond after getting whipped at Georgia? Will we see shades of 2020? Or will it be Corral and the Ole Miss offense who has the bounce-back week? This game will answer those questions, along with another one that’s had a bunch of different answers already in 2021 — who’s the No. 2 team in the SEC West?