SEC Football: What We Learned in Week 8, What to Look for in Week 9
SEC Football: Week 9 Look At Each Team
What we learned in Week 8: Two Tigers are surging, but one is disappearing into the tall grass of the SEC schedule. There was a significant upheaval across the league – well, everywhere except for Tuscaloosa, Ala. – last week, in keeping with the national trend. But despite the fluctuating conference standings, the SEC has still maintained its national prominence.
The two SEC divisional leaders made the top 5 of the initial BCS Standings, No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Missouri. The league’s only one-loss team, Auburn, came in at No. 11, while three two-loss squads – No. 13 LSU, No. 16 Texas A&M and No. 21 South Carolina – filled out the SEC’s six spots in the rankings.
What to look for in Week 9: In-stadium beer drinking, cigar smoking in the locker room, arcade games in the stands and even a rap concert in the student section. That’s right, each and every one of these things will happen at SEC football stadiums this weekend.
The celebratory cigars, smoked by the victor of the annual “Third Saturday in October” showdown between Alabama and Tennessee, will mark the continuation of a tradition that began in the 1950s. Though, technically, the stogies will be burned on the fourth Saturday in October this year.
The beer drinking, arcade game playing and rap concert having, however, are all part of a sideshow concocted by Mississippi State’s athletics director within the last few weeks. But he says he expects the antics to catch on with other schools and spread like wildfire to campuses across the nation. Could these, too, become long-held traditions? Yeah, maybe at campuses where there isn’t great action on the field.
Speaking of what to look for on the field this week, an all-time SEC career stats records is going to fall this week. Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews will most likely break the record for career receiving yards on his first catch, needing just a six-yard reception to do so.
Here’s a complete team-by-team breakdown of what we learned in Week 8 and what to look for in Week 9 of SEC football.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama likes to repeat history. The Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0) demolished Arkansas 52-0 for the second-straight season. Whether or not BCS title history will repeat itself for Alabama a third-straight season is yet to be seen, but one thing’s for sure – this team looks more and more like it’s hitting that championship stride with each passing week. The Tide is destroying opponents by an average score of 40-9 this season.
It’s the “Third Saturday in October”… ahem, technically it’s the fourth Saturday in October, but the rivalry between Alabama and Tennessee doesn’t change its name for anything or anyone. Tennessee should offer a little tougher test than the Razorbacks, but it’s highly unlikely the Vols can emerge from Bryant-Denny Stadium victorious. However, it is going to be very interesting to see how well Alabama defends the pass with safety Vinnie Sunseri lost for the season with a knee injury.
Arkansas (3-5, 0-4) is now the Auburn of 2012. Ironically, the Tigers resurgence has now further toughened an already mind-blowingly brutal stretch of games for the Razorbacks. Before Auburn took down Texas A&M and launched to No. 11 in the BCS Standings, Arkansas was already in a stretch of four-straight games against ranked opponents.
The Hogs have lost all four so far and now have another tacked on, which will likely be the Razorbacks’ fifth-straight loss in conference play. At least the Razorbacks have a bye, giving them an extra week to prepare for the surging Tigers. Last year, Auburn finished 3-9 overall and 0-8 in SEC play, but at this point, Arkansas is well on its way to matching that lowly accomplishment.
What a difference a year makes. After Auburn (6-1, 3-1) fought back on the road against LSU, we knew the Tigers were much improved from last season. But last week Auburn showed Texas A&M, and the rest of the SEC, that it’s more than capable of not just competing with but beating the league’s top teams. The 45-41 road win over the Aggies is a huge step forward for the program, and the Tigers are now the lone one-loss team in the conference and in firm control their SEC destiny.
All Auburn can hope for this week is a game with no injuries. Auburn hosts a pitiful Florida Atlantic team, so injuries represent the only plausible hurdle to clear. The Tigers will blow out the Owls, let’s just hope no one blows out a knee in the process.
After losing badly to Missouri, 36-17, there’s a real possibility that Florida (4-3, 3-2) could go from preseason Top 10 to finishing with a losing record. The Gators have now lost two-straight, and the early offensive improvement led by QB Tyler Murphy seems a distant memory after the worst performance of the season. Missouri held Florida to just 151 yards and 11 first downs last week. Meanwhile, the defense yielded the most points it has in any game this year.
The Gators are dangerously close to coming unglued, and it couldn’t happen at a worse time – right in the thick of SEC play. Fortunately, Florida has this week off before taking on Georgia Nov. 2. But other than Georgia Southern (and even that’s questionable at this point), there are no guaranteed wins remaining for this bunch, as Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida State await.
Georgia (4-3, 3-3), like Florida, has also lost two-straight games after falling 31-27 at Vanderbilt last week. The loss almost certainly ended the Bulldogs’ faint hopes of a trip back to the SEC Championship Game this year. QB Aaron Murray’s Heisman Trophy campaign was also derailed in the process. He completed only 16-of-28 passes for a mere 114 yards, with no touchdowns and an interception. The 221 yards of offense Georgia managed was easily its worst output of the season, and it’s clearer than ever now that this team is only a fractured shell of its former self.
Also like the Gators, the Bulldogs also enjoy a much-needed bye this week. With so many injuries to key players, Georgia needs rest more than anything. Star running back Todd Gurley missed another game last week with his sprained ankle, and this extra time off could help him get back on the field when Georgia takes on Florida Nov. 2.
Kentucky (1-5, 0-3) had the week off, but the Wildcats had plenty to think about ahead of this week’s Thursday night game at Mississippi State. The Cats have lost their last 13 SEC games going back to a November 2011 win over Tennessee. Kentucky has not won a road game since they beat Louisville on September 4, 2010. They’ve lost their last 13 SEC road games, dating back to a win over Georgia on in November 2009. And they’re not sure if starting QB Jalen Whitlow’s ankle has improved enough to play this week.
Still, you have to wonder if Kentucky can ride the wave of upsets that swept through the SEC and the rest of college football last week into Starkville and grab an elusive road win in a conference game. The Bulldogs have not been impressive thus far and they, too, are 0-3 in the SEC. Mississippi State’s three wins have been over Alcorn State, Troy and Bowling Green. And they beat Bowling Green by only one point. So on paper, this appears to be a winnable game for Kentucky. Then again, they’re still Kentucky.
Zach Mettenberger and the inconsistent LSU offense of 2012 has resurfaced – if only for a week. In the Tigers’ (6-2, 3-2) 27-24 loss at Ole Miss last week, Mettenberger threw three interceptions, which is one more than he’d thrown in the previous seven games this year. Two of the picks were thrown in the red zone, ending precious scoring opportunities.
Oh, and that LSU defensive resurgence? Yeah, that definitely only lasted a week. After holding Florida to six points and 240 yards, the Tigers were absolutely steamrolled by the Rebels, which gained 525 yards and 28 first downs. LSU’s defense couldn’t get off the field all night, surrendering 11 third down conversions on 18 attempts by Ole Miss. Despite the obvious problems on the field, it was the guy on the sideline that took the blame for the loss.
"There's a number of reasons why we don't win that game, but in my opinion it's me," head coach Les Miles said in his opening address immediately following the upset loss.
This week, expect to see a glimpse of the LSU that looked primed for an SEC West title run just a couple of weeks ago. Of course, the Tigers are playing Furman, so any improvements from the last two games should be taken with a large handful of Cajun seasoning. Still, the gumbo and jambalaya should taste a little better in Baton Rouge this weekend.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last weekend, Mississippi State (3-3, 0-3) didn’t play a game, but there was some big news from Starkville related to this week’s game. After lackluster fan support at Bulldogs’ home games, highlighted by students leaving games early, State’s athletic director, Scott Stricklin, announced a plan to revive the raucous atmosphere and encourage students to stick it out until the end. With that, I defer to Stricklin to take it from here.
"What we'll have is four beer carts – spaced from the western end of the north end zone all the way over to under the student section on the east side. There will be arcade games as well set up in the endz one, and during halftime, we'll have a talented young man by the name of Pitbull perform under the north end zone where the gridiron club will be next season. I really think this is going to be something you see more and more in college football from here on out."
Who cares about the game against Kentucky this week; there’s going to be beer, arcade games and a rap concert in the student section. Stricklin may convince students to stay, but with all these distractions, you have to wonder if the actual on-field action can compare to what’s mentioned above.
No James Franklin, no problem for Missouri (7-0, 3-0), which proved it is not a one-man team. Would the Tigers prefer to play with Franklin in the lineup? Of course. Can they still win without him? Apparently so, and in convincing fashion. Freshman QB Maty Mauk threw for 295 yards and helped Missouri rack up 500 yards and 36 points against a Florida defense that hadn’t previously given up anything close to those numbers this season. The 36-17 win puts the Tigers in firm control of the SEC East, with Florida, Georgia and South Carolina each carrying two losses at this point.
Now that Missouri has taken control of the division and the No. 5 spot in the initial BCS Standings, the question is: Can the Tigers continue to win with a target on their back? They won’t sneak up on anyone from here on out, especially No. 21 South Carolina this week. Just how high can these Tigers climb?
Ole Miss Rebels
That really happened. That, of course, being 27-24. And 27-24, of course, being the score by which Ole Miss took down No. 6 LSU. No one’s more shocked that it’s not a dream than Ole Miss, itself. The Rebels (4-3, 2-3) woke up from a three-straight-loss nightmare to knock off the Tigers last week in arguably the most surprising upset of the week.
Even Ole Miss probably expected to lose, and lose painfully, to LSU, a 6-1 team with hard-hitting running back Jeremy Hill, a resurgent Zach Mettenberger at quarterback, and a defense coming off a suffocating performance against Florida. Furthermore, the Rebels were missing seven players on defense and the offense had been stinking it up for weeks.
Ole Miss now has an opportunity to finish the season strong. With Idaho up this week, the Rebels should easily notch their second-straight win. There’s no reason to think Ole Miss can’t win out or at least win four of its final five to finish 9-3 or 8-4. After this week, the Rebels have Arkansas, Troy and No. 5 Missouri before the season finale at Mississippi State.
South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina (5-2, 3-2) no longer has a direct path to the SEC Championship Game after losing 23-21 at Tennessee last week. But the road from Columbia to Atlanta certainly is not closed to the Gamecocks – it’s just a little windier. And they’ll definitely need some help along the way. First, QB Dylan Thompson will need to play well in place of injured Connor Shaw. Also, the Gamecocks need the divisional leaders to lost twice. As fate would have it, South Carolina gets the first crack at making this happen.
Step one of the Gamecocks' new journey is taking down Missouri this week. The Tigers are undefeated and sitting atop the SEC East with a two-game lead, so if South Carolina is to have any shot at reaching the conference title game, it has to win this week. From there, the Gamecocks just need to keep on winning and hope Tennessee, Ole Miss or Texas A&M can also defeat Missouri.
Tennessee (4-3, 1-2) head coach Butch Jones and his kicker, Michael Palardy, can see into the future. Palardy made a 19-yard field goal as time expired Saturday for a 23-21 victory over No. 11 South Carolina that ended the Volunteers' 19-game losing streak against ranked opponents. Amazingly, the senior had predicted such a scenario a day earlier in a conversation with his head coach.
"I said, 'You've got the game-winner tomorrow, right?' " Jones told reporters after the upset win. "And he said, 'I got you, Coach.' "
Tennessee hadn't beaten a ranked foe since a 31-13 victory over No. 21 South Carolina on Oct. 31, 2009. The latest Vols’ victory over the Gamecocks sent them to the 21st spot in the initial BCS Standings.
This week, Tennessee gets its second of three-straight chances to knock off a ranked opponent, though it will likely be tougher to take down No. 1 Alabama on the road. Next week, the Vols travel to No. 5 Missouri.
Texas A&M Aggies
As if there was any doubt remaining, last week’s 45-41 loss to Auburn confirmed Texas A&M (5-2, 3-2) has the worst defense in the SEC. How else can you explain losing a game in which your offense gained more than 600 yards, had 29 first downs and scored more than 40 points at home. In fact, the Aggies topped 40 points in each of their two losses this season.
Saturday, Johnny Manziel had more than 500 yards of offense and accounted for five touchdowns, while Mike Evans hauled in 11 catches for 287 yards and four touchdowns, breaking his school record for yardage and tying for most touchdowns. But it still wasn’t enough to outscore the Tigers, which racked up even more yardage (379 on the ground) and points.
This quote pretty much sums it up. "In my career when you score 41 points you should win – end of story," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said.
The thing to look for this week is motivation. Where do the Aggies go from here? The chance to get to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game is virtually gone. The faint possibility of finding a way into the BCS title game is no more. Will A&M have enough toughness to keep from slipping further with a loss to Vanderbilt?
Vanderbilt (4-3, 1-3) will not go winless in the SEC, and the early season prediction that the Commodores would knock off a big-name conference opponent has been proven true, albeit against a Georgia team that’s merely a shell of its early-season self. Still, an SEC win is an SEC win, but this was more than just a win. It was the first upset of a Top 25 opponent during the James Franklin era, and Vanderbilt has plenty of positives to take from last week’s 31-27 upset.
First of all, the Commodores pulled off the win without starting QB Austyn Carta-Samuels, who left in the second quarter with an injury. Still, Vanderbilt was able to hold the ball for more than 35 minutes and outgain Georgia 337-221 in total offense. The Commodores held Aaron Murray to just 114 yards passing, the third-lowest passing performance of his career.
Will the Dores have their QB back this week? As of Tuesday, Vandy is waiting for Carta-Samuels to return from his grandfather's funeral so doctors can re-examine his injured leg to see if he can play Saturday against Texas A&M. Regardless of who plays QB, wide receiver Jordan Matthews will most likely break the all-time SEC record for career receiving yards on his first catch. The senior has 3,088 yards for his career, just a six-yard catch shy of overtaking Georgia’s Terrence Edwards (3, 093).