Real deal: When push came to shove, and all the chips were on the table, Alabama remained the national title favorite with a perfectly-orchestrated two-minute drill to beat LSU, 21-17. It was textbook offense on a night when everything seemed to deviate from the plan.
After taking a 14-3 lead into halftime, the Crimson Tide suddenly found themselves at the mercy of LSU’s defense. Three-and-out. Three-and-out. Three-and-out. There was a theme in the second half for Alabama’s offense, and it wasn't anything coach Nick Saban liked to see. Alabama finished the game just 1-for-9 on third-down conversions.
But when its back was against the wall, Alabama once again turned to its Heisman Trophy candidate, AJ McCarron, and he delivered with a game-winning drive and swing pass to T.J. Yeldon, who scampered 28 yards to pay dirt. McCarron finished with meager numbers – 14-of-27, 165 yards – but the young man is a winner.
LSU learned that the hard way. Again.
On down the river: First of all, Les Miles is a college football treasure.
Second of all, he might have lost LSU this football game. None of Miles’ trademark “riverboat gambler” tricks paid off this time around. LSU failed on a fake field goal. It botched an onside kick. And, worst of all, Miles passed up a manageable field (that would have put the
Tigers ahead by six points) in order to go for it on fourth down. Of course, that failed, too.
It’s tough to second-guess a man who has had so much success doing things his way – the “This is where opponent’s dreams come to die” way –but Miles made some mistakes Saturday night. And he knows it, and he’ll admit to it. Sometimes the breaks go your ways, others they don’t.
This time, the breaks left an LSU crowd stunned, silent.
Two more years: In good news all around – you’ll enjoy this, too, LSU fans! – college football fans have, at least, two more years of watching freshman running backs Yeldon (Alabama) and Jeremy Hill (LSU) run around and through opponents.
Before Yeldon’s game-winning dash, it was Hill who nearly stole the frosh spotlight. He finished with 107 tough rushing yards and a score, and looked up to the task of taking on the Crimson Tide defense even more so than his elder backfield mates. That being said, it is Yeldon’s name that will be passed down through generations of SEC fans following his touchdown scamper, one that kept Alabama’s national title hopes alive.
Dream on: There were plenty of close calls on Saturday for the national championships contenders, mainly ones of the undefeated variety.
Alabama won by four points. Notre Dame won by three points, in triple overtime. Kansas State and Oregon won by two scores apiece in competitive games. In the end, the game is survive and advance. Of course, beating LSU in Tiger Stadium is much more difficult than taking out Pittsburgh at home (See: inexplicable, yet resilient Notre Dame), but survival can hardly be measured in terms of difficult.
At the end of the day, you’re either alive or you're not.
Alabama’s still kicking.
No. 6 Georgia 37, Ole Miss 10
Lockdown: Eighteen minutes into the game, the Ole Miss Rebels had already outscored Florida against the
Georgia Bulldogs' defense. Then, everything stopped. Everything. Ole Miss could not muster a single point in the final 41 minutes (and change), succumbing to a Georgia defense that seems to be be playing better and better as the season goes on.
Georgia held Ole Miss to just 234 yards of offense Saturday, their second-lowest output of the season. With relentess pressure on quarterback Bo Wallace, the Bulldogs also forced three turnovers. Gearing up for the SEC title game? It's getting closer.
One more: Auburn, laughable and horrendous Auburn, is all that stands between Georgia and its return visit to Atlanta for the SEC Championship. By virtue of its win over Florida and South Carolina's two conference losses, Mark Richt has Georgia on the brink once more.
But if there's anything an awful rival -- one suffering through an embarrassing season that could see its national championship-winning coach relieved of his duties -- would love more than the season to end tommorrow, it's destroying the hopes and dreams of a interstate opponent. That's the task at hand for the Tigers next weekend. Can the Bulldogs overcome that pressure?
Georgia will need quarterback Aaron Murray to be sharp once more to make it happen. The redshirt junior bounced back from a terrible showing in Jacksonville to post career day-type numbers against the Rebels: 384 passing yards and four touchdowns.
Yes, that will do just fine against 2-7 Auburn.
No. 16 Texas A&M 38, No. 15 Mississippi State 13
Johnny uncaged: Texas A&M’s freshman quarterback is a cheat code. And not the type where an amateur is just pressing random buttons. No, this he’s the unfair advantage gained by a video game player who spends significant cash on gaming magazines.
Manziel padded his Heisman-worthy numbers against the Bulldogs in what is now the best game of his career against a ranked SEC opponent. He accounted for just one touchdown against Florida and LSU combined. Not today. Manziel torched Mississippi State to the tune of 465 yards and two touchdowns.
It was the fourth time in nine career games he’s accounted for 400 or more yards of offense. He’s one of four quarterbacks from BCS automatic qualifying conferences that leads his team in both passing and rushing.
A freshman Heisman candidate? It’s becoming more and more likely.
The collapse: What happened to Dan Mullen’s defense? Just two weeks ago, the
Mississippi State Bulldogs were one of the top-ranked defenses in the country, forcing turnovers and wreaking havoc, especially with its secondary. Of course, that was against below-average competition.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 7-0 record earlier this season by beating the likes of Jackson State,
Troy and Auburn – an SEC punch line if there ever was one in 2012 – and it looks like they’ve been exposed in recent weeks. After being handed a 38-7 beating in Tuscaloosa to the nation’s No. 1 team, Texas A&M put up 38 points, too. Yeah, exposed isn’t too strong of a word here.
More Moore: If you haven’t heard of Damontre Moore yet, here’s the official memo. The young man is pretty good at this football thing. Moore, who entered the game as one of the nation’s leaders in sacks (10.5, second-most) and tackles for loss (18, led all FBS players), is poised to make plenty of money at the next level if he continues improving at this rate.
Moore, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end from Rowlett, Texas, made his presence felt immediately in this one, sacking Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell on the opening drive, setting the tone for the rest of the game. He forces quarterbacks to constantly be aware of the pass rush, and has been one of the primary reasons the
Aggies’ defense has surprised folks this season.
No. 7 Florida 14, Missouri 7
Disappearing act: The Gators were never an elite offense, but recent efforts against Georgia and Missouri have revived concerns for Will Muschamp’s offense. Just when it seemed sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel had settled into a comfort zone in first-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s system, he and his teammates score just 23 points in the past two games.
There was, to some extent, an excuse against rival Georgia: That defense is loaded with future NFL players and it played its best game of the season. But Mizzou? This is not an elite defense by any stretch of the imagination, allowing 23.6 points per game (46th nationally) entering the Florida game. The Gators gained just 276 yards of offense Saturday.
Of course, a win is a win. But it wasn’t pretty. Now that the SEC schedule is wrapped up – finishing 7-1 in conference – the Gators can only hope Ole Miss and/or Auburn can trip up the Georgia Bulldogs in order to earn a berth into the SEC title game.
Next, please: Another offense, another clinic put on by Florida’s defense. Entering Saturday as the No. 4 scoring defense in the country, the Gators only improved their numbers against the Tigers. It was the third time this season Florida has held an opponent to single digits on the scoreboard.
One thing is certain: The Georgia loss can not be placed on the shoulders of Florida’s defensive players or coaches. This is a fearsome group, and gives them a chance in every game. Safeties
Matt Elam and Josh Evans picked off two more passes Saturday – two of the four Missouri quarterback James Franklin threw – and continued their elite play. Elam and Evans might both become first-team All-SEC selections. That’s one heck of a secondary.
Honeymoon is over: Kentucky is Kentucky. Florida is Florida. Missouri knows that now.
A week removed from securing their first conference win against Kentucky last weekend, Missouri fell back to Earth Saturday, despite holding a halftime lead in this one. Four turnovers will not give you a good chance to win versus any opponent, especially not a top-10 team. Gary Pinkel’s squad has gotten off to a much slower start in the SEC than fellow newcomer Texas A&M (See above), and there is little sign of hope for a respectable finish.
The team is 1-6 in SEC play. That’s one terrible welcoming committee.
Don’t be fooled:Regardless of the final score, this could have been the last straw for coach Derek Dooley. His team has shown little to no improvement this season, and was just pushed to the brink by a 4-4 Sun Belt team. Every single outing seems to be a barnburner, with outcomes too often left up for grabs. The
Trojans drove past midfield with an opportunity to tie or win before time expired.
Tennessee’s four wins this season have come against N.C. State (a solid win), Georgia State, Akron and Troy. The Akron and Troy games were not, by any means, blowouts. Tennessee has a shot to win its final three SEC games – Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky – but those are not guaranteed wins. Dooley’s job security is not guaranteed, either.
One-way street: If and/or when Derek Dooley loses his job this season, he will not be able to look at his quarterback Tyler Bray and the offense. Those Volunteers have delivered points at a fairly consistent pace, including a semi-astonishing 55 points on Saturday. However, the Volunteers defense has allowed at least 38 points in each of the past five games.
Bray passed for 530 yards, five touchdowns, zero interceptions and led his team to the game-winning touchdown with 1:30 left to play.
Yes, that’s part of the joke: Tennessee scored 55 points and needed a game-winning score of any variety. That’s how things are going nowadays in Knoxville.
Vanderbilt 40, Kentucky 0
Remember the days: This used to be Vanderbilt: The pushover, the afterthought. Not anymore. With coach James Franklin at the helm, the Commodores have recovered from early losses to SEC heavyweights South Carolina, Georgia and Florida – three of the top eight teams in the BCS standings – to the brink of their second-consecutive bowl appearance.
And yes, that would be the first time in school history that’s been done. With five wins, Ole Miss, Wake Forest and Tennessee are the final three remaining games on the schedule. Franklin is doing one hell of a job.
Balancing act: Kentucky was wary of Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy after last season’s performance (135 yards, 3 touchdowns), but the Commodores brought more than a running game to Lexington. Showing tremendous balance, Vanderbilt rushed for 224 yards and passed for 220. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who has had an up-and-down season, was rather efficient – 18-of-29 passing, two touchdowns – and turned the ball over just once.
Of course, with Kentucky’s offense, how many points do you really need?
This was Kentucky’s worst loss to Vanderbilt since 1918. So, there’s also that.
Over for Joker? Entering the season on the hot seat is never easy, especially when you know your offense will struggle to score against every single opponent on the schedule. That’s the situation Joker Phillips entered into in 2012. And it hasn’t gotten easier. With his team falling to 1-9, including an 0-7 mark in conference play, it would appear it’s only a matter of time before the trigger is pulled to start up a coaching search in Lexington.
In Phillips’ meager defense, the schedule has been brutal – one of the toughest in the SEC – but leading the 113th scoring offense is not going to garner any votes of confidence, whether it be from the athletic director or one of the 2,000 fans in the bleachers. On the bright side: It’s almost basketball season, Big Blue Nation. Ashley Judd’s on her way.
Arkansas 19, Tulsa 15
Didn’t see that coming: In a game many thought would be a high-scoring affair, turned into an affair where points were difficult to come by. Neither team gained more than 300 yards of offense. Neither quarterback threw for a touchdown. This is strange when discussing an Arkansas outcome against a non-BCS league team. Of course, this is also not the Razorbacks SEC fans are used to seeing.
Tyler Wilson, the preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback, was 21-of-31 passing for 272 yards and an interception. Arkansas turned the ball over twice. In all, too close for comfort, even for the lost season that the Razorbacks are suffering through. It was Arkansas' first win versus an FBS opponent under coach John L. Smith.