What we learned about every SEC West team in Week 11
Welcome to the SEC, the self-proclaimed best conference in college football.
Welcome to the SEC West, known to the rest of the country as Alabama and its little brothers.
While the SEC will continue to tout the former point of view, the latter point of view never looked more right after this weekend. Alabama wrapped up the division title by both (once again) overwhelming a division rival, routing Mississippi State, 51-3.
But it wasn’t just Alabama that caught everyone’s attention. Auburn was to be the Tide’s challenger, but the Tigers didn’t even make it to the Iron Bowl to give themselves a chance, stubbing their toe against Georgia. Not only do Alabama’s rivals struggle to stand up to them on the field these days, they can’t even stay clean long enough to make their game against the Tide relevant.
Alabama: OK, the Jalen Hurts Heisman Trophy talk can officially begin now. Hurts became the first Alabama quarterback to pass for 300 yards and rush for 100 in the same game in Saturday’s 51-3 rout of overwhelmed Mississippi State. The kid makes plays in close games, like last week in a 10-0 win over LSU, and dominates when the Tide plays a lesser opponent like the Bulldogs. And he gets better as the season goes on. Saturday’s 11-carry, 100-yard performance was his third 100-yard rushing game in the last four. His 347 passing yards was his first 300-yard game of the season. With players like Shea Patterson at Ole Miss and Jake Bentley at South Carolina emerging, quarterback is going to go from being a weak position in the conference to a strength. And when it does, the league will be stronger than it is this year.
Arkansas: When LSU’s Derrius Guice got loose for a series of long runs in the Tigers’ 38-10 win over the Razorbacks, it again exposed the weakness of the Razorbacks — they are a step slow. Guice rushed for 252 yards with much of it coming in chunks, including a school-record 96-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The speed difference was never more evident than, when facing a 3rd-and-2 at the LSU 27 in the third quarter, Guice appeared to possibly be contained, but he simply outran the Arkansas defenders to the corner and turned up field for the big gain. Guice and Leonard Fournette are good, but they can’t do that against most SEC opponents, most notably Alabama. But like Auburn, which will make defenders have to tackle in space, LSU was able to expose the Razorbacks’ lack of athleticism at linebacker and the secondary.
Auburn: The Tigers join a list of teams who are as good as their strength allows them to be. Georgia shut down Auburn’s vaunted running game – perhaps a banged up Kamryn Pettway was a factor there — by holding it to 127 yards on 32 carries, and all of a sudden the league’s most efficient passer wasn’t very good either as Sean White threw for only 27 yards in Georgia’s 13-7 upset. The Tigers’ balance this year is completely premised on the run first, and the running game is premised on a few bread-and-butter option, power and misdirection plays. When Georgia proved it had the players and scheme discipline to halt those plays, the passing game was not able to deliver the balance anymore. It was reminiscent of the way LSU’s offense goes sideways when Alabama, unlike anybody else the Tigers play, is able to stuff the run without resorting to extra help. Stop Auburn’s bread-and-butter running plays, and the whole offense crumbles. Fail to stop it, and Auburn does what it did to Arkansas in a 56-3 rout.
LSU: On a day where Auburn suffered a stunning loss to Georgia, South Carolina could not keep up its momentum against Florida and Texas A&M’s upset loss to Mississippi State turned into a full-blown slide against Ole Miss, there is much to be said for the consistency of LSU under Ed Orgeron. For the fifth time in as many games under Orgeron, the Tigers came to play in a 38-10 rout of Arkansas, dominating both sides of the ball en route to improving to 6-3, 4-1 under Orgeron. The Orgeron/LSU résumé includes four resounding wins over Missouri, Southern Mississippi, Ole Miss and now the Razorbacks. The one loss? A competitive game with Alabama where the Tigers were in a scoreless tie into the fourth quarter. If consistency of effort is a big part of the criteria Athletic Director Joe Alleva is looking for in a coach, Orgeron is passing that test with flying colors.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs found out what many others have already learned during Saturday’s 51-3 loss to Alabama: If your bread-and-butter doesn’t work against the Crimson Tide’s base defense, things tumble south quickly (a similar lesson that is applied to Auburn above). Like they did against Leonard Fournette a week ago, the Crimson Tide took out MSU’s best weapon, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, without having to sell out to stop him. The result: Fitzgerald was 10-for-33 passing for 145 yards and had just 15 rushing yards, and the Bulldogs had no answers on offense with just 274 yards.
Ole Miss: Why not hit the reset button? The Rebels did that at quarterback, and it worked out well in a 29-28 upset of No. 8 Texas A&M. Shea Patterson, the 5-star true freshman, had his redshirt ripped off following the season-ending injury to Chad Kelly and responded with 338 passing yards and 2 touchdowns, and he engineered a late, game-winning field goal drive. Now 5-5, Ole Miss needs just one win in the next two to get bowl-eligible, meaning Patterson can have four starts under his belt by season’s end, plus extended practice as the starting quarterback leading up to the bowl game. By his sophomore season next year, he can be fairly seasoned. And by Year 3, he could be one of the nation’s premier quarterbacks. After watching him Saturday, who is betting on him to be around for a Year 4?
Texas A&M: Since 2013, the Aggies are 6-8 in November, including a 3-8 record in SEC games. The culprit? Certainly there have been many over the years — the Aggies’ lack of physicality is at the top of the list — but this year, missing injured quarterback Trevor Knight is a big reason for the Aggies’ woes. Whatever the case, one has to wonder if Kevin Sumlin may slip back to the hot seat. His team should have no problem beating Texas-San Antonio this week, but if LSU hands the Aggies a fourth loss in six games to close the season, is Sumlin safe? He may have done enough to stay safe this year, but what if LSU comes to College Station and physically dominates the Aggies on Thanksgiving Day? It could become interesting.