By Matt Smith
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Recapping Week 9 in the SEC
Thoughts and Musings
-For the second straight Saturday, it was a somewhat dull SEC slate. We love all football, but the five conference games went mostly as expected and only one of the five was still competitive midway through the fourth quarter. Next Saturday looks fantastic on paper with 13 teams in action and mostly competitive matchups. I expect the drama and excitement to pick up as the calendar turns to November.
#1 Georgia 42 – Florida 20
-The unfortunate trend of one-sided Cocktail Parties continued (for the most part), as No. 1 Georgia ripped through Florida, 42-20, setting up next week’s showdown in Athens with fellow unbeaten and third-ranked Tennessee. A third-quarter jolt from the Gators turned a 28-3 Bulldogs lead into just 28-20, but Georgia quickly righted the ship with an easy touchdown drive to regain firm control. The ‘Dawgs weren’t particularly crisp with three turnovers, but ran for 239 yards and had four passes of 25 yards or longer to overcome their mistakes. Brock Bowers had a circus catch that became a 73-yard touchdown, and made a beautiful grab on a free play in the fourth quarter to seal the game. The lull after halftime was a little concerning, but credit a dominant first half for putting Georgia in a position where it could take its foot off the gas.
-Florida fought for 60 minutes, but the talent just isn’t there to complete in these types of games. Anthony Richardson isn’t a consistent passer, the receiving corps lacks a top target, and there is little semblance of a pass rush. At 4-4, the season is trending in the wrong direction. A bowl is still more likely than not, but the Gators will have to steal a road win at Texas A&M or Florida State to get to 7-5, which, in my mind, would be shooting par in Year 1 for Billy Napier.
#19 Kentucky 6 – #3 Tennessee 43
-No. 3 Tennessee showed no concerns with focus ahead of the trip to Athens, leading for all but 87 seconds of its 44-6 destruction of No. 19 Kentucky to move to 8-0. The offense is the story of the Vols season, but the defense was the dominant force on Saturday night. Turnover-prone Will Levis threw three passes into the arms of Tennessee defenders, and the Wildcats produced a dismal 205 yards of offense. Mistakes have been Levis’ downfall, and Tennessee was able to play aggressively knowing all getting burnt for a big play meant was its offense could get back on the field. Kentucky converted a mere two of 13 third-down attempts. Like Ole Miss a year ago, the defensive progress from Year 1 to Year 2 of the new Tennessee regime under Josh Heupel and coordinator Tim Banks is remarkable.
-The Hendon Hooker-to-Jalin Hyatt connection was on point again. Hyatt had just five receptions, but there were some huge plays, going for 138 yards with touchdowns of 55 and 31 yards to help blow the game open in the first half. Can they keep it up between the hedges of Sanford Stadium next Saturday? I can’t wait to find out.
-Kentucky has hit the skids in October, finishing 1-3 after a perfect September. The schedule toughened, but as usual, the offense wilted in big games. There won’t be another 10-win season, but the Wildcats need to get back on track next week at Missouri, or else this season can probably be written in ink as a disappointment.
#15 Ole Miss 31 – Texas A&M 28
-No. 15 Ole Miss took some early punches from Texas A&M, but unlike last week when it was outscored 28-0 after halftime by LSU, the Rebels dominated the second and third quarters to pull away from the Aggies in a 31-28 victory that moved them to 8-1. Quinshon Judkins ran right through the Texas A&M defense, carrying a heavy load on his 19th birthday with 34 totes for 205 yards and a touchdown. The SEC is loaded with good running backs, but it’s hard to take anyone over Judkins right now.
-Jaxson Dart was excellent for Ole Miss, throwing three touchdowns and picking up 95 yards with his legs while again being asked to do a ton for this offense. Dart is also becoming one of the best in the SEC at his position over the past few weeks, and he’ll now get a much-needed week off before facing Alabama. His development from the beginning of September to the beginning of November has been pretty stunning – a huge credit to Lane Kiffin and coordinator Charlie Weis Jr.
-Kiffin was Kiffin, going for it on fourth down four times and converting twice, one on a fake punt deep in his own territory trailing 14-7. Ole Miss got a field goal on that drive, beginning a run of 17 straight points to seize control of the game. Kiffin has looked silly for his aggressiveness at times, but he pushed all the right buttons in College Station, and his Rebels are now very much alive in the SEC West title race. He also continued his not-so-subtle shots at Texas A&M’s recruiting in his postgame press conference.
-True freshman Connor Weigman became the third different Texas A&M quarterback to start a game this season. He finished with 338 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. His stats were better than his overall performance, as a midgame lull doomed the Aggies when Ole Miss cranked up the pressure on him after Weigman led two impressive drives to take an early 14-7 lead. Weigman is clearly the best option going forward for the 3-5 Aggies, especially with upcoming opponents Florida and Auburn lacking dominant defenses. A fast close with Weigman playing well and a win over LSU in the finale is the only thing that can bring even one iota of positivity to this Texas A&M season.
Missouri 23 – #25 South Carolina 10
-I noted in my weekend primer that Missouri-South Carolina game felt like a market correction game. The Tigers had lost three SEC games by one score, and the 5-2 Gamecocks had caught some good fortune in recent weeks. Missouri’s slumping offense woke up, controlling the first half with scoring drives of 96 and 89 yards to build a 17-7 halftime lead in a comfortable 23-10 win. After some tough weeks, Brady Cook played his best game of the season under center for the Tigers. Cook and Dominic Lovett were on the same page all day, connecting 10 times for 148 yards. The Missouri defense continues to grow, holding South Carolina to only 203 yards.
-At 4-4 and with New Mexico State still to play, Missouri at least has ensured itself of playing for a bowl bid on Black Friday against Arkansas. Eli Drinkwitz has done a solid job with this team, and the Tigers finally got a win that they can be proud of. They’ll host Kentucky next week in another very winnable game.
-Spencer Rattler continues to be a huge disappointment. The Oklahoma transfer has just five touchdown passes on the season for South Carolina while throwing nine interceptions. He doesn’t have a ton of help, but he has the talent to carry a mediocre supporting cast. The results just have never been there. He can still lead a successful season if this team can split its four November games and get to 7-5, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever be able to elevate this offense that has been spinning its wheels for nearly a decade.
Arkansas 41 – Auburn 27
-About what I expected on The Plains, as Arkansas ran for just shy of 300 yards on Auburn to get to 5-3 in a 41-27 win. Rocket Sanders led the way with 171 yards on 16 carries, highlighted by a 76-yard scamper down the left sideline. K.J. Jefferson played mistake-free football and contributed a combined 277 yards with arm and legs. For the second straight season, Arkansas has steadied the ship after a three-game losing streak, and it now heads home for three games which all could be against ranked opponents (Liberty, LSU, Ole Miss). The Razorbacks will be a fun team to watch in November as they chase their first 10-win season since 2011.
-Auburn went 0-for-October and, at 3-5, will now need a miracle to avoid consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1998 and 1999. The Tigers had some success against a shaky Arkansas secondary, but much of that came on scramble drills and in garbage time as opposed to any sort of consistent rhythmic passing from Robby Ashford, which has eluded the Auburn offense all season. The Tigers aren’t really playing for anything anymore, and they can’t even play spoiler again until the Iron Bowl with upcoming foes Mississippi State and Texas A&M struggling.
-Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Tennessee all control their own destinies for the SEC Championship Game. Nothing changed on Saturday in that regard. Ole Miss needs just one LSU loss to regain control of its fate. Arkansas isn’t mathematically eliminated yet but would need a miracle. I’ll spare you the lengthy details of the scenario that sends the Razorbacks to Atlanta.
Non-SEC Results that Surprised Me
1. (22) Kansas State 48, (9) Oklahoma State 0
2. North Texas 40, Western Kentucky 13
3. Charlotte 56, Rice 23
4. Louisville 48, (10) Wake Forest 21
5. Baylor 45, Texas Tech 17
Matt’s Top 25
3. Ohio State
11. Kansas State
13. Ole Miss
16. Penn State
17. Oklahoma State
18. North Carolina
21. Wake Forest
23. N.C. State
25. Oregon State
Week 10 Order of Preference
1. No. 2 Tennessee at No. 1 Georgia, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
2. No. 6 Alabama at No. 15 LSU, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
3. No. 23 Liberty at Arkansas, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
4. Kentucky at Missouri, Noon ET (SEC Network)
5. Florida at Texas A&M, Noon ET (ESPN)
6. South Carolina at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
7. Auburn at Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Week 10 Non-SEC Games to Watch
1. Texas at No. 13 Kansas State, 7 p.m. ET (FS1)
2. No. 5 Clemson at Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
3. Texas Tech at No. 7 TCU, Noon ET (FOX)
Matt Smith – Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.
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