Winners and losers after SEC Week 11: DeVonta Smith, RBs and no-hope bowls
SEC Week 11 finds us creeping closer to the finish line. That line arrived for Kentucky and South Carolina on Saturday as they played their 10th and final regular-season games.
Alabama and Florida made official what we’ve long known — that they’ll meet in Atlanta for the SEC title game. Week 11 had plenty of highs and lows, and plenty of our weekly winners and losers.
John Donne (or how I came to join DeVonta Smith’s Heisman campaign)
Yes, it was somehow a good week for a metaphysical 17th century British poet. Huh? Donne is perhaps most famous for his poem noting, “No man is an island.” And this point is certainly applicable to Alabama’s Heisman Trophy candidates.
The temptation will be to pick Mac Jones for the Heisman. He’s the quarterback. Wide receivers, the logic goes, need a good quarterback to get them the ball. Without good passes, they’re essentially extra blockers. So how would DeVonta Smith win the Heisman? He wins it because no man is an island.
It’s not like Mac Jones succeeds in a vacuum. He has that brilliant offensive line keeping him upright, a stable of running backs forcing defenses into giving him passing lanes, and Smith out there doing all-world things. Sure, Smith depends on Jones and the personnel around him. So is Jones. So is everybody else on their respective teams.
Smith has done generational kinds of things at Alabama. He’s the best wide receiver they’ve ever had, and is clearly the best player in the nation at his position. To not consider him to the strongest extent possible because he’s a wide receiver? That kind of thinking should have gone out the window before John Donne died in 1631.
Way back in week 1, there was a single 100-yard rusher in the SEC. Let’s just say Week 11 showcased a stable of talented backs. It might have also showcased a stable of really worn-down defenses, but with guys running like this, well, it happens. The 100-yard rushers of Week 11 were: Kevin Harris (210 yards), Larry Rountree (185), Trelon Smith (172), Najee Harris (145), Chris Rodriguez (139), Isaiah Spiller (120) and A.J. Rose (101). It was a good week to run, even with only 10 of the SEC’s 14 teams in action.
Texas A&M and Florida
Neither team could afford to stumble given their spot on the outer edge of the College Football Playoff picture. Neither did. It was tougher, but perhaps more impressive for A&M, whose 17-0 fourth quarter against Auburn should do wonders in dispelling the criticism of the Aggies’ shaky offensive game against LSU.
Florida didn’t play Tennessee as close as the final score and continued to feature Trask, Trask, and more Trask. We do wonder how a team that rushed 17 times for 19 yards against Tennessee can feature enough balance to beat a genuinely good team. But anyway, the important thing here was that neither dropped the metaphorical ball here. Both kept their CFP fates alive for at least another week.
Eli Drinkwitz and Sam Pittman
The two guys who have done more with less, the two favorites for the SEC’s Coach of the Year honors, met in CoMo and gave us a crazy game to remember. Missouri’s 50-48 win over Arkansas wasn’t particularly representative of either team’s season, but the game indicated the extent to which Pittman and Drinkwitz have infiltrated their programs with a desire to do whatever is needed to win.
Top passer and rusher out for Arkansas? No problem, here’s 48 points. Give up a back-breaking 2-point conversion in the final minute? Don’t worry, Mizzou, here comes a big drive to win. Was it a thing of beauty? No. Was it another testimony to the work both guys have done to see their teams playing like this in December? Very much so.
Special teams play always matters. If you don’t think so, consider Mizzou winning a shootout in an area where it had previously struggled. Mevis, the Tigers kicker, was a game-changer, going 5-for-5 including a 51 yarder in the two-point win. The frosh kicker is 16-for-19 on the season, which ranks him third in the SEC in percentage and first in makes. He’s also perfect on PATs — not too long ago, it felt impressive if Mizzou didn’t miss one of those in a given week.
The Tigers had one more chance to save a disappointing season and they led to start the fourth quarter at home against A&M. And Auburn did nothing with it. The Tigers gained 26 yards in the fourth quarter, the vast majority coming in the final minute when they trailed by a safe two-score margin.
How is it that Auburn still has exactly two 3,000-yard passing seasons in the history of the program? As Auburn fans have watched LSU and Alabama explode offensively in the past two seasons, there’s a growing element that thinks it’s time to park the Gus bus.
Tennessee’s QB situation
Maybe Jeremy Pruitt was incarnated by the ghost of baseball’s famous “Captain Hook,” Sparky Anderson. But the Vols (finally) started Harrison Bailey, played him a couple of quarters, then yanked him for sophomore J.T. Shrout, who was rumored to have a torn labrum. It certainly didn’t look that way, as Shrout played the best football of his young career. Of course, he had thrown 28 passes in his career to date entering the game.
We also had another brief experiment with Brian Maurer, and somewhere out there, Jarrett Guarantano will probably work his way back to the field. If a team has four QBs, it has none. Why it’s taking UT this far into the season to figure any of this out is kind of inexplicable.
Alabama’s 45 first-half points felt like a statement. Given how adamant LSU had been about overtaking the Tide, that statement was kind of a boot on the neck of all of that talk. That the Tigers won’t go back to the CFP this year wasn’t shocking. To see the defense — after drawing a fair amount of Coach O criticism en route to the title last year — ride the struggle bus has been bizarre. LSU is dead last in the SEC in pass defense and 13th in pass efficiency defense.
There’s more to discuss. LSU is 11th in the SEC in scoring defense and 12th in yards allowed. Sure, they had opt-out defections and COVID-19 issues. But the third-team Tigers defense should be lapping many of the teams ahead of them in the defensive rankings. That they haven’t will make for a long 2020 offseason.
Sure, it has been a bizarre season. But let’s be honest. If a team can’t go 4-6 in the all-SEC schedule, they don’t have any business playing in a bowl (except Arkansas, which we’d make an exception for). Does anybody really want to see Vandy, South Carolina or Mississippi State in a bowl? It’s going to be a strange enough bowl season as it is. But heaven help the poor bowl CEO who announces a .500 team from a mid-major conference against a putrid school dead-legging its season.
ESPN had projected South Carolina in the Gasparilla Bowl last week. South Carolina just gave up 41 points to Kentucky and struggled to field a complete team. Mississippi State was penciled in to play in the Birmingham Bowl against Memphis. Why do we want to subject people to that?