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Week Ten SEC Recap

By Matt Smith
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Matt Smith recaps week ten in the SEC.

Week Ten SEC Recap
No. 6 Florida 34, Kentucky 10
Missouri 41, Vanderbilt 0
No. 1 Alabama 42, No. 22 Auburn 13
Ole Miss 31, Mississippi State 24
No. 5 Texas A&M 20, LSU 7
No. 9 Georgia 45, South Carolina 16

The Big Story
The 2019 Iron Bowl was one of the best games of the season. History, as it has been wont to do in 2020, did not repeat itself on Saturday, as 8-0 Alabama dominated Auburn on both sides of the ball in a 42-13 rout. Despite Nick Saban being quarantined at home, the top-ranked Tide did not miss a beat. Mac Jones found DeVonta Smith and John Metchie twice each for touchdowns as part of a five-touchdown day, while Najee Harris averaged 8.7 yards per carry despite Auburn selling out against the run.

Defensively, Alabama’s secondary, which lacks a true national star, continues to play excellent football. Malachi Moore and Brian Branch both recorded interceptions of Bo Nix, who was under constant pressure all afternoon. The biggest gaffe of the day did not hurt Alabama, as Seth Williams dropped a likely touchdown pass after a double-move busted the Tide’s coverage. After a poor six quarters in October against Ole Miss and Georgia, the Crimson Tide have allowed just 33 points in the past four-and-a-half games.

Auburn, now 5-3, needed everything to go right, but very little did. The Tigers lost the turnover battle, had the Williams drop, and had to settle for three field goal attempts. Auburn will face a top-five team for the second straight week next Saturday when No. 5 Texas A&M comes to Jordan-Hare Stadium. It won’t be the talent mismatch that this Saturday was, and it’s a win Nix and Malzahn desperately need to render the 2020 season anything beyond another mediocre campaign.

Top Takeaways
*History was made in Columbia, as Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller became the first female to participate in a game for a Power 5 team when she kicked off to open the second half. Fuller was expected to place kick as well, but with the Commodores offense unable to do anything in the 41-0 loss to Missouri, there was no opportunity to do so. Vanderbilt has been flirting with the minimum number of players all season due to injuries and contact tracing issues, leaving Fuller to be called upon this week.

Some will call this a publicity stunt. Maybe it was to some extent, but the evidence doesn’t really add up. Vanderbilt doesn’t have a men’s soccer team, so the usual route for football teams when they need a kicker wasn’t there for Derek Mason. I’m sure a current player or two kicked in high school, but they can’t be practicing kicking during the week given every player available is on the two-deep right now given the team’s limited numbers. Also, it’s not like joining an 0-7 football team with strict protocols during a pandemic for no more than three games is all that enticing. Fuller stepped up to the plate, looked at it as an opportunity more for others behind her than for herself, and made a bit of history. We’re not going to start seeing female players in major college football all over the country, but if she inspired young girls during an otherwise meaningless and non-competitive football game, I tip my cap to her.

*LSU-Texas A&M was, well, it was a football game. There have been easier games on the eyes. In fact, the majority of the football games are more aesthetically pleasing than Saturday night’s tilt in College Station. The teams finished dead even with 267 yards each, but three LSU turnovers, including a pick-six by Aggies linebacker Buddy Johnson, allowed Texas A&M to build a 20-0 lead and hold on for a 20-7 win. The Aggies were productive on the ground with 162 yards, but Kellen Mond completed just 11 of 34 pass attempt for 105 yards, a shocking stat line given how Arkansas was able to pick apart LSU’s secondary last week.

*T.J. Finley took a step backwards in his fourth career start, with his 36 percent completion percentage barely topping Mond’s 33 percent. Max Johnson spelled Finley, racking up most of his 113 passing yards in garbage time. The Tigers will be lucky to stay within 35 points of Alabama next Saturday night. Texas A&M doesn’t really need style points right now, only wins. It got the latter on Saturday night, but there are some concerns heading to Auburn next week to face a pretty solid Tigers secondary.

Quick Hitters
*Vanderbilt became the second SEC school with a head coach opening, firing Derek Mason on Sunday after an 0-8 start to the season. Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch will serve as the interim coach for the Commodores’ final two games against Georgia and Tennessee. Mason never finished with a winning record, but did go to two bowl games and went 3-3 against in-state rival Tennessee.

*What next for Vanderbilt? It's natural for Vanderbilt to want to find the next James Franklin, but remember, Franklin came into a league with Will Muschamp, Mark Richt, Derek Dooley, Joker Phillips and Houston Nutt on his schedule every year. He did a great job, but his timing was absolutely perfect. The next guy has to sell Nashville. Put it on the uniforms like SMU does with Dallas. There's messaging that can work if it's done right. That said, 6-6 seasons are probably the maximum for any coach until the administration steps up to the plate with more support. Charlotte head coach Will Healy (who was previously a head coach in the Nashville area at Austin Peay) and Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea (a Vanderbilt alum) are the obvious names here, but they should consider Clark Lea because of Notre Dame’s stellar defensive play on Friday afternoon against North Carolina, not because he's an alum. That does nothing for you. I like Miami offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee as a candidate from a personality standpoint. They can of course consider trying to run the triple and be Georgia Tech Lite. It'll work for a few years, and it would really irritate the rest of the league. It would be entertaining.

*Eliah Drinkwitz has thrown his name into the SEC Coach of the Year discussion with Missouri sitting at 4-3 and with a great chance to finish with a winning record. The Tigers have won four of five games since their 0-2 start and completely embarrassed Vanderbilt on Saturday after the Commodores had hung tough with both Kentucky and Florida. Missouri meets Arkansas next week, and if Drinkwitz can drop Sam Pittman and the Hogs to 3-6, Drinkwitz may earn himself some hardware. Missouri was far from the mess that Arkansas was when the two first-year coaches took control 12 months ago, but Missouri finishing with a winning record and Arkansas winning three games were about of equal plausibility at the start of the season.

*Florida’s defense couldn’t get off the field, and Dan Mullen reminded defensive coordinator Todd Grantham quite frequently during the first half of the Gators’ 34-10 win over Kentucky. Grantham’s group adjusted after halftime and pitched a second-half shutout, calming the tension a bit. Kyle Trask welcomed top target Kyle Pitts back to the lineup after a two-week absence by finding him three times for touchdowns, and Florida pulled away after halftime to move within one win of its first SEC East title since 2016. The Wildcats missed top running back Chris Rodriguez, and the passing game managed just 62 yards as they fell to 3-6. Kentucky will close out its season next Saturday at home against South Carolina, with a bowl game still on the table in this oddest of odd seasons.

*It was a pretty entertaining Egg Bowl, as Mississippi State and Ole Miss combined for more than 1,000 yards and 99 pass attempts in a 31-24 Rebels win. The Bulldogs trailed for the final 51 minutes, but had a chance to tie in the final second before Will Rogers’ Hail Mary pass was unsuccessful. Rogers had his best game of the season, building on a solid performance last week at Georgia. He finished with 445 yards, three touchdowns, and no turnovers. Matt Corral displayed his cannon of a right arm repeatedly on Saturday, connecting on touchdown passes of 48 and 81 yards to help Ole Miss build an early lead. Lane Kiffin was aggressive all game, going for it on fourth down six times, but three failures kept the Bulldogs within striking distance and kept things tense for the majority of the day in Oxford with a fanbase that has grown to expect the worst. The 2-6 Bulldogs and 4-4 Rebels both now head into an idle week before playing their final two games on Dec. 12 and Dec. 19.

*South Carolina isn’t the best litmus test right now, but Saturday was another successful night for the Georgia offense under J.T. Daniels. Last week’s win over Mississippi State was more of an air show in Daniels’ first start, but Saturday’s 45-16 road rout of South Carolina was led by the running game. The Bulldogs dominated the line of scrimmage in amassing 332 yards and 7.2 yards per rush, allowing Daniels to throw just 16 passes. The defense was fine, allowing just 273 yards. There likely won’t be a trip to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta this year, but wins over Vanderbilt and Missouri could allow the 8-2 ‘Dawgs to play in Atlanta two weeks later in the Peach Bowl.

*The Gamecocks coaching search appears to have narrowed, with athletic director Ray Tanner honing in on Louisiana-Lafayette’s Billy Napier and Oklahoma assistant Shane Beamer. Napier has been my choice all along, as the Ragin Cajuns’ program continues to roll, but Beamer is an interesting choice given his last name and his work with Dan Mullen, Kirby Smart and Lincoln Riley, in addition to his legendary father, Frank. Beamer’s candidacy is likely aided by some other non-coordinators (Ed Orgeron, Sam Pittman) having some success as head coaches, as delegating control of both sides of the ball has proven effective at other places. With the extended season this year, a hire could still be weeks away, but it will be interesting to see who South Carolina ultimately settles on given the vast differences between the two top candidates.

Around The Nation
*What a mess in the Big Ten. Ohio State now needs to play next week’s game at Michigan State to be eligible for the Big Ten Championship Game after its game at Illinois was postponed. Needing to play six games to be eligible for the conference title, the 4-0 Buckeyes can’t miss any more games. 5-0 Northwestern fell from the unbeaten ranks at Michigan State as a comeback from 17-0 down to take a 20-17 lead was all for naught after a pair of Spartans field goals won the game. That leaves Ohio State as the only viable CFP candidate, but having a strong enough resume to be selected remains a concern after the team’s second game cancellation in three weeks.

*Trevor Lawrence returned to the field for the first time in five weeks sizzling, leading No. 3 Clemson to a 31-0 lead over Pittsburgh after just one quarter. The Tigers cruised to a 52-17 win, with Lawrence finishing with 403 passing yards and a pair of touchdown passes. Only a visit to Virginia Tech, and perhaps a return trip to Florida State, stand between Clemson a rematch with No. 2 Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 19. The Tigers team that showed up on Saturday is fully capable of winning a third national championship in five seasons.

*What does Texas do? The 5-3 Longhorns blew a game it dominated against Iowa State on Friday to essentially eliminate themselves from Big 12 title contention. Is it over for Tom Herman? It feels like there is no coming back from that performance, but how big of a fish can Texas land? The only two acceptable candidates to most Longhorns fans are Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. The former isn’t coming, and the latter seems very content doing television at FOX. Texas should always be able to land a great coach, but its last two hires had sparkling resumes, and both failed. Maybe it’s a Texas problem. Personality might be the biggest question for a Texas coaching search. You can obviously win big there, but it’s a job with demands that a head coach has to embrace. Mack Brown did. Herman and Charlie Strong did not. Only one of the three had success in Austin.

*No. 2 Notre Dame stayed perfect on Friday with a 31-17 win at No. 19 North Carolina, holding one of the top offenses in the nation to just three points in the final three quarters with a defensive gem from coordinator Clark Lea. I still see teams on two different levels when I watch the Fighting Irish and Alabama, but there isn’t a weak spot with Notre Dame. Ian Book’s game doesn’t allow for Heisman Trophy numbers, but he belongs in the conversation. The Fighting Irish are absolutely capable of winning a playoff game this year and going 2-for-2 against Clemson, with the teams likely to meet again on Dec. 19 in the ACC Championship Game.

*It was a wild weekend in the Pac-12. On Friday, Oregon State rallied for a 41-38 upset win over No. 15 Oregon, capped by a crazy final sequence with curious replay reviews, an injury to Beavers quarterback Tristan Gebbia, and a quarterback taking his first career snap on a game-deciding fourth and goal. Earlier that day, Cal’s game-tying extra-point attempt in the final minute was blocked, handing the Big Game to Stanford, 24-23. On Saturday, Washington erased a 21-0 halftime deficit to Utah, rallying for a 24-21 win with a go-ahead touchdown with 36 seconds to play. The Huskies are now 3-0, but still have to play at Oregon in two weeks.

*Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson matched the NCAA record with eight rushing touchdowns in the 4-0 Bulls’ 70-41 win over Kent State to help the Bulls all but wrap up the MAC East title. Patterson finished with 409 yards, fewer than 20 yards shy of the single-game yards record, set by Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine in 2014. In a full season, Buffalo would be a viable New Year’s Six bowl candidate. It took him a few years, but Lance Leipold, who led Wisconsin-Whitewater’s dominance of Division III before coming to Buffalo, has the Bulls sitting as the class of the MAC.

A Peek at Next Week
The Big One
No. 5 Texas A&M at Auburn, Noon ET (ESPN)
This should be Texas A&M’s toughest remaining test. Auburn has controlled this series in recent years, winning four of the last five meetings. These teams are probably more even than their rankings suggest, but the Aggies defense is playing the best of any of the four units, having allowed just 10 total points in their last two games. Kellen Mond and Jimbo Fisher are the household names, but if the Aggies are to run the table and finish 9-1, it will be first and foremost because of Mike Elko’s defense.

Don’t Miss
Arkansas at Missouri, Noon ET (SEC Network)
No. 6 Florida at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
No. 1 Alabama at LSU, 8 p.m. ET (CBS)

Flip Around
No. 3 Ohio State at Michigan State, Noon ET (ABC)
Liberty at No. 14 Coastal Carolina, TBD
No. 10 Indiana at No. 18 Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
West Virginia at No. 12 Iowa State, TBD
No. 4 Clemson at Virginia Tech, TBD

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.