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SEC Primer: Week 5

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith previews Week 5 in the SEC

October finally brings a near-full slate of conference games in the SEC, as only two non-conference games are on the weekend menu, both of which have been moved due to the impact of Hurricane Ian on the Southeast.

Two huge games in the Magnolia State are coin flips. No. 2 Alabama heads out on the road, where it has mostly struggled since the start of the 2021 season, but to face an Arkansas team it hasn’t lost to since 2006. Georgia hopes to remain perfect in SEC East road games under Kirby Smart.

13 SEC teams will have an off week during October, starting with Tennessee and Vanderbilt this week, so the schedule is lighter with just seven total games. October is the best month of the college football season, and we get five October Saturdays this year. Let’s preview the first in the SEC.

 

This is a Big Week for:

Coach: Mike Leach, Mississippi State

I don’t think Leach is on the hot seat, but with a brutal upcoming schedule and a pair of losses to Ole Miss already on his resume, an 0-2 start to SEC play could spell trouble down the road. Texas A&M is a bit wounded and still all over the place on offense. The Bulldogs won in College Station a year ago, and a home loss to the Aggies should be considered a significant disappointment.

 

Player: Chris Rodriguez, RB, Kentucky

A mysterious summer for Rodriguez ultimately landed him a four-game suspension, which ended at the conclusion of the Wildcats’ Saturday win over Northern Illinois. Kentucky has struggled to run the ball consistently in the season’s first month. It’ll face an Ole Miss defense that Tulsa had some success against on the ground last week. Rodriguez could be returning at the perfect time.

 

Unit: Alabama Receivers

Arkansas is perilously thin in the secondary. Alabama heads to Fayetteville with its passing game starting to click, and there’s potential for the Crimson Tide to light up this Razorbacks secondary. Louisville transfer Tyler Harrell should make his Alabama debut, and sophomore JaCorey Brooks is emerging as the next great Alabama wideout.

 

Trivia Time

1. Who coached Arkansas in Alabama’s 1979 national title-clinching win over the Razorbacks in the 1980 Sugar Bowl?

2. How many SEC East road games has Kirby Smart lost as Georgia’s head coach?

3. In what year did Auburn last start 0-2 in SEC play?

 

Game Predictions

 

South Carolina State (1-2) at South Carolina (2-2, 0-2), Thursday, 7 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Dave Neal and Deuce McAllister

Series History: South Carolina leads 2-0

Last Meeting: 2009 – South Carolina 38, South Carolina State 14

Line: South Carolina -39.5

Over/Under: 55.5

September Thursday games for South Carolina have been aplenty over the years, but they’re normally scheduled that way. This game, of course, was moved up 40 hours to try to beat the impact of Hurricane Ian, expected to reach the Palmetto State on Friday. The visiting Bulldogs were the unofficial HBCU national champions in 2021, but fell to UCF in the season opener, 56-10. Speaking of 56, that’s how many points the Gamecocks posted last week against Charlotte. The bigger story to me was holding the 49ers to just 20 points, a positive sign for what had been a struggling South Carolina defense. Spencer Rattler has not thrown a touchdown pass in the past two games, a slump that he will break out of early on Thursday night in a game that is only being played for the television money and the paycheck the Bulldogs will take home to Orangeburg.

Prediction: South Carolina 42, South Carolina State 7

 

No. 7 Kentucky (4-0, 1-0) at No. 14 Ole Miss (4-0), Noon ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Sean McDonough and Todd Blackledge

Last Meeting: 2020 – Ole Miss 42, Kentucky 41 (OT)

Current Streak: Ole Miss – 2

Current Streak in Oxford: Ole Miss – 6

Line: Ole Miss -7

Over/Under: 53.5

The last time these two teams played in Oxford was in 2010, when they combined to go 3-13 in SEC play. What a difference a dozen years makes, as the winner of this game will be in great position to host their respective division’s Goliath in November with a trip to Atlanta on the line. The Rebels are untested. The running game and defense look great on the stat sheet, but there is no evidence yet that Ole Miss can win that way week in and week out in SEC play. Kentucky’s defense has been solid as usual, but the normally productive running game hasn’t been there. The Wildcats get a jolt this week with running back Chris Rodriguez returning from suspension, but the offensive line may be the weak link that holds them back. I think this game is low-scoring, and like so many games in this sport, explosive plays and turnovers, which both quarterbacks are prone to, will decide it. Ole Miss might be the better team over the course of the season, but this will be the type of game that Kentucky wins under Mark Stoops.

Prediction: Kentucky 24, Ole Miss 20

 

(2) Alabama (4-0, 1-0) at (20) Arkansas (3-1, 1-1), 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson

Last Meeting: 2021 – Alabama 42, Arkansas 35

Current Streak: Alabama – 15

Current Streak in Fayetteville: Alabama – 7 

Line: Alabama -17.5

Over/Under: 61

I’m still not sure how Arkansas lost to Texas A&M, but the SEC West requires a quick turning of the page, as the Hogs now face a game that, while not a must-win, feels very important before heading out on a three-game road trip starting next week. The road hasn’t been kind to Alabama, who has three wins by two points or less and a loss in its last five regular-season games away from Tuscaloosa. Rush and coverage will need to work together for Arkansas. If the Razorbacks can’t get to Bryce Young, it’s going to be a long afternoon. Arkansas scores on pretty much everyone, including Alabama a year ago, so this game could be much like last year’s game with Arkansas punching back but Young and the Crimson Tide putting together a scoring drive to keep the lead at two scores. This one will be fun, and although the vintage Alabama curb-stomping is coming soon, I don’t think it happens Saturday.

Prediction: Alabama 41, Arkansas 27

 

(17) Texas A&M (3-1, 1-0) at Mississippi State (3-1, 0-1), 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb

Last Meeting: 2021 – Mississippi State 26, Texas A&M 22

Current Streak: Mississippi State – 1

Current Streak in Starkville: Texas A&M – 1

Line: Mississippi State -4

Over/Under: 45.5

This game is in the inverse of the one two hours up the road in Oxford. In Starkville, the loser of this battle of maroon is almost certain to find itself disappointed in its final record come November, as the SEC West gauntlets ahead ensure more losses. The Bulldogs won this game a year ago in College Station, but Texas A&M defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin handled the Air Raid while at Ole Miss last season. I didn’t believe in the Aggies offense before star wide receiver Ainias Smith was lost for the season against Arkansas, and now I really don’t. I expect Mississippi State to learn from its second-half failures two weeks ago in Baton Rouge and close strong, as the defense steps up to start off a brutal October with a win.

Prediction: Mississippi State 24, Texas A&M 16

 

LSU (3-1, 1-0) at Auburn (3-1, 1-0), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Joe Tessitore and Greg McElroy

Last Meeting: 2021 – Auburn 24, LSU 19

Current Streak: Auburn – 2

Current Streak in Auburn: Auburn – 1

Line: LSU -9

Over/Under: 45.5

It’s nearly impossible for these two teams to play a normal game. Why would Saturday night be any different with LSU on the road for the first time under Brian Kelly and Auburn again facing the possibility of no longer having its head coach if it loses? LSU is still a patchwork offense. The receivers are good and Jayden Daniels’ legs are a huge weapon, but the whole has yet to match the sum of the parts. Auburn would gladly take a patchwork offense, as it is completely one-dimensional now with Robby Ashford at quarterback after throwing for just 135 yards through the air last week against Missouri. I think Auburn can ugly this game up long enough to keep it close until the fourth quarter, but there will be no miracle finish like there was a week ago, leaving Auburn stakeholders on coaching change watch come Sunday.

Prediction: LSU 21, Auburn 7

 

(1) Georgia (4-0, 1-0) at Missouri (2-2, 0-1), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic

Last Meeting: 2021 – Georgia 43, Missouri 6

Current Streak: Georgia – 8

Current Streak in Columbia: Georgia – 5

Line: Georgia -28

Over/Under: 54.5

There’s a chance that Georgia won’t face a team that finishes the season with a winning record between the opener against Oregon and the Nov. 5 visit from Tennessee. The Bulldogs aren’t the perfect machine that they seemed to be against Oregon, as the rushing game leaves a little to be desired and the defense has allowed 29 points in the last five quarters. Missouri rarely resonates as a big game with opposing players, but the struggles of a week ago mean Georgia should be locked in for the long trip to Columbia. After a loss that still seems unimaginable last Saturday at Auburn, the Tigers face a monumental task, particularly for an offense that has scored just 20 points in two games against Power Five opponents. I do think Georgia needs a bit more polish, but I can’t take Missouri and the points here after what I watched last week.

Prediction: Georgia 42, Missouri 10

 

Eastern Washington (1-2) at Florida (2-2, 0-2), Sunday, Noon ET (ESPN+)

Announcers: Drew Carter and Aaron Murray

Series History: First Meeting

Line: N/A

Over/Under: N/A

There are far more important things to worry about in the Sunshine State, but from a football perspective, the 24-hour delay shouldn’t affect the Gators much with Missouri coming to town as the short-week opponent next Saturday. The Eagles, a perennial top-10 FCS team, are in the midst of a rugged schedule that included losses to Oregon and last year’s FCS runner-up Montana State. Florida sleepwalked against USF and nearly got caught, so even with all the extenuating circumstances, I expect the Gators to deliver a crisp performance. They played well at Tennessee last week and met the moment in defeat, and even at 2-2, the season is far from lost in Gainesville.

Prediction: Florida 42, Eastern Washington 13

 

Best Bets

Last Week: 3-2

Season: 15-5

 

UTSA -4.5 at Middle Tennessee (Friday)

Washington -2.5 at UCLA (Friday)

Air Force -14 vs. Navy

Kentucky +7 at Ole Miss

Penn State -24.5 vs. Northwestern

 

The Best Game I’ve Ever Watched On October 1:

Oct. 1, 2011: (18) Arkansas 42, (14) Texas A&M 38

An admittedly tough decision here, as I passed on Tennessee’s “Dobbs-Nail Boot” Hail Mary to defeat Georgia and 2016, and one of 2005 USC’s epic comeback wins, overcoming a 21-0 deficit at Arizona State. We head to Arlington for this final non-conference meeting between Texas A&M and Arkansas, with both teams having come to the Metroplex ailing after losses to Oklahoma State and Alabama respectively.

A shootout was expected between top quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Tyler Wilson, as Texas A&M was looking for its first win in the series since its restart in 2009 after a 17-year hiatus following Arkansas’ departure from the Southwest Conference. The C&C Touchdown Factory (I just made that up now) dominated the first half, as Christine Michael found the end zone three times and backfield mate Cyrus Gray reached paydirt twice, helping Texas A&M build a 35-17 halftime lead. With four touchdown drives of 70 or more yards, the Razorbacks seemingly had no answers for the Texas A&M offense.

Texas A&M received the ball to start the second half, but sputtered on its first two drives, with Arkansas countering with a field goal and touchdown to get within one possession. Shades of a week earlier were setting in for the Aggies, who had seen a 20-3 halftime lead evaporate against Oklahoma State.

The defenses settled in for nearly a quarter, but then a wacky play in which Arkansas’ Cobi Hamilton’s fumble was recovered by teammate Jarius Wright allowed the Hogs to tie the game after Wilson converted a two-point play with his legs.

Texas A&M took over with 11 minutes left and efficiently moved the ball 74 yards in 16 plays, but came up six yards short of the goal line, settling for a Randy Bullock field goal with just over four minutes to play. Arkansas countered with a nine-play touchdown drive, with Broderick Green’s three-yard plunge with 100 seconds left putting Arkansas on top for the first time.

Tannehill had one more chance, but as Tennessee Titans fans know all too well, the big moment wasn’t successful, as the Aggies were stuffed on 4th and 2 to end the game.

Texas A&M wasn’t done blowing big leads, as they would suffer late losses to Missouri, Kansas State and Texas en route to a disappointing 6-6 season and the dismissal of head coach Mike Sherman. Arkansas wouldn’t lose again until Black Friday at No. 1 LSU, finishing 11-2 after a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State. It would be Bobby Petrino’s final season as well, as Arkansas fired him for off-field issues in the spring of 2012.

The Aggies would go on to win the next nine meetings in the series before Arkansas finally got back in the win column in 2021.

 

Trivia Answers

1. Lou Holtz

2. Zero

3. 2015

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.