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SEC Recap: Week 10

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith recaps Week 10 in the SEC

Alabama road games have not lacked drama over the past two seasons, but Saturday night’s 32-31 defeat for the sixth-ranked Crimson Tide at No. 10 LSU may have been the best of the bunch. The fourth quarter featured four lead changes and a game-tying field goal. Overtime delivered with a winner-take-all two-point conversion play. The winner kept SEC title hopes alive. The loser was probably left playing for the Citrus Bowl. I couldn’t help but think of the coming 12-team playoff era and how much different of a feel this game would have had in that structure. Some of you will love it. I, and many others, will not. No sport has regular-season drama anywhere close to college football, and an overtime classic between Alabama and LSU on a November Saturday night in Tiger Stadium is as close to sports perfection as you can get.

 

#6 Alabama 31 - #10 LSU 32 - OT

-I thought this would be a historically great Crimson Tide squad – perhaps Nick Saban’s best ever. Instead, for the first time since 2010, Alabama will play a regular-season game with two losses. Diagnosing the issues with this Alabama team is challenging. Bryce Young is amazing. His escape of a third-down sack to find JaCorey Brooks for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter was heroic, and Alabama’s last four drives all resulted in points. Yet, he missed on more than half of his passes. His first-quarter interception as Alabama was about to take a 7-0 lead was probably the difference in the game, as Alabama outgained LSU by 98 yards. The running game was just OK. There were protection problems. The longest completion came to a running back. The offense stepped up when it mattered, but it entered the fourth quarter without a touchdown. We haven’t seen start-to-finish dominance from Alabama, and while that’s an arduous task on the road against a top-10 team, the standard is so high that it leaves you having to wonder what is wrong with this program.

-Penalties were an issue again. They weren’t quite as bad as in games at Texas and at Tennessee, but Alabama was flagged nine times for 92 yards, including some key late pass interference penalties. The Crimson Tide are who they are away from home – a very good team, but nothing further. We have two seasons of evidence supporting that assertion. Very good hasn’t been good enough in their last two trips away from Tuscaloosa, and it probably won’t be good enough next week at 8-1 Ole Miss. The roll of the schedule dice continues to go against Alabama this year with yet another difficult road game after already having visited 5-4 Arkansas, 7-2 LSU, 8-1 Tennessee and 6-3 Texas.

-I knew Brian Kelly would win at LSU, but the questions were how big and how soon? Special teams have cost the Tigers mightily in their two losses this season, but Kelly’s teams usually get better throughout the season, and this one has been no different. He’s been patient with quarterback Jayden Daniels, and Daniels’ calm demeanor has worked well with a head coach who, while calmed a bit from a decade ago, is still very intense on the sideline. After wins over Ole Miss and Alabama, LSU now is in the driver’s seat for the SEC West title, and a College Football Playoff berth is still in play.

-I loved the decision by Kelly to go for two. Once Alabama scored in the top half of the overtime, that had to be the end of the night for Young. LSU couldn’t score seven points in the bottom half. The only options,were zero, six and eight. Kelly went for the win, and told Sports Illustrated that the two-point conversion was the same play he called for an apparent game winning touchdown at Notre Dame against Florida State in 2014, but that play was called for offensive pass interference.

-Tigers true freshman linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. is an animal. He was a huge addition to Kelly’s first signing class, as LSU lured him away from Texas A&M with, well, something. LSU’s defense doesn’t quite have the talent of past great Tigers teams, but Perkins is an exception. He still has two-and-a-half seasons to play.

 

#1 Tennessee 13 - #3 Georgia 27

-Georgia’s offense has been undervalued all season. It came into Saturday’s showdown with No. 1 Tennessee averaging more points per game than the Volunteers against Power Five opponents. Undervalued, no more. The third-ranked Bulldogs were clinical in all phases on Saturday afternoon, dominating the Vols in a 27-13 win that will push them back to the top of Tuesday’s CFP rankings. The second half was merely a countdown, as Tennessee could never cut into the ‘Dawgs’ 24-6 halftime lead until garbage time.

-Saturday’s defensive performance from Georgia was perhaps better than anything the historic 2021 unit put on display. The nation’s top offense did not score a touchdown until the final five minutes, as a combination of heavy pressure, lockdown coverage, rain and a boisterous Sanford Stadium overwhelmed Hendon Hooker and the Tennessee offensive line with six sacks. Tennessee failed to reach 300 yards in the game.

-It’s now permissible to talk Heisman Trophy, and unfortunately for Hooker, his chances were harmed significantly by a poor performance in what will likely be the last game of his that many voters watch before casting their ballots. Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud had a challenging day in awful weather in a win at Northwestern, but Stroud gets a spotlight game against Michigan to end the regular season. That matters a ton in the Heisman race. Fair or not, Hooker is now a longshot to become Tennessee’s first Heisman winner.

-Great job by the Georgia offensive line. Tennessee’s secondary has been a clear weakness, but the front seven has not. The Bulldogs kept Stetson Bennett IV clean, and the running game was consistently successful in building a 24-6 first-half lead. It’s hard to say any unit didn’t play well, but I’ll specifically call out the big uglies for laying the groundwork for the dominant win.

-It didn’t affect the game, but the “call stands’ ruling on the Hendon Hooker fumble in his own end zone in the first quarter was an officiating disaster. The ruling on the field was that Tennessee recovered the fumble and got the ball out of the end zone to the one-yard line. There are two elements here. The first was the fumble, which looked like a fumble but was close to being an incomplete pass. The second was clear and obvious, as the Tennessee player who recovered the fumble was indisputably down before the ball left the end zone. The two options were an incomplete pass, giving Tennessee the ball at the four-yard line, or a safety. Instead, they stuck with the call on the field, and the Vols punted from the one-yard line. It could have been a significant play, and it was poorly explained. Officials make mistakes, but process mistakes shouldn’t happen.

 

Liberty 21 - Arkansas 19

-If Saturday was treated as an audition for the Auburn job, then bravo, Hugh Freeze. Liberty went into Fayetteville and dominated the first half against a surging Arkansas team, 21-19, to move to 8-1. Quarterback Jonathan Bennett, who was sick late in the week, threw three first-half touchdown passes as the Flames built a commanding 21-3 lead. The Hogs nearly forced overtime with a fourth-quarter rally, but a two-point conversion run by K.J. Jefferson was stopped just short of the goal line with a minute to play.

-Freeze is a top contender for the vacant Auburn job. He wants it. Most Auburn fans want him after his success against Alabama when at Ole Miss. His personal struggles are a material hurdle, but this feels like the right match at the right time, especially after Freeze handled Arkansas a week removed from the Razorbacks comfortably winning in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The football gods are humorous, sometimes.

-At 5-4, a 10-win season for the first time since 2011 is now off the table for Arkansas. The Razorbacks must quickly regroup with LSU and Ole Miss coming to town in the next fortnight. Liberty has been way too good of a program to take lightly, if that’s what happened. I don’t know what went on this week in Fayetteville, but that was a rare completely unacceptable performance from Sam Pittman’s team.

 

Kentucky 21 - Missouri 17

-Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz was awarded a two-year contract extension on Saturday morning, but Kentucky crashed his party with an ugly 21-17 win over the Tigers on a challenging weather day in Columbia. The bowl-eligible Wildcats and 4-5 Tigers combined for just 475 yards of offense. Missouri erased a 14-3 fourth-quarter deficit, but Kentucky responded with a 22-yard touchdown pass from Will Levis to Dane Key midway through the final stanza to make it seven wins in eight meetings. The game essentially ended on a wild play in which an errant snap on a Kentucky punt turned into a roughing the punter penalty and a first down for the Wildcats. It was more heartbreak for Missouri, which suffered its fifth one-score loss in conference play this season.

-Levis finally played turnover-free football in an SEC game, throwing three touchdown passes to lead a comeback win for Kentucky and avoid a fourth loss in five games. He wasn’t asked to do a ton with his arm on a windy day, but he did his job efficiently despite being sacked six times behind a struggling offensive line. It was a nice bounceback performance for Levis against a very good Missouri defense following last week’s disaster against Tennessee. I think I’d still draft Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud ahead of him though, Mel and Todd.

-Missouri remains alive for a bowl. Assuming a loss to Tennessee and a win over New Mexico State, the Tigers will head into their Black Friday rivalry game with Arkansas at 5-6.

 

Florida 41 - Texas A&M 24

-Florida and Texas A&M played a much different game in the other early kickoff, as the Gators sliced through a porous Aggies run defense, which made little progress after being gutted by Ole Miss last week. Florida scored the final 21 points in its 41-24 win, the fourth straight by the underdog in this relatively new SEC series. Montrell Johnson Jr. led the way with 100 yards and the game-clinching touchdown, while Trevor Etienne and quarterback Anthony Richardson added 80 and 78 yards respectively. Florida’s offensive numbers looked better than the unit actually played, as penalties and third downs were a problem.

-After getting picked apart in the first half and allowing 24 points, the Gators defense was excellent in the second half, forcing a pair of turnovers and pitching a shutout. Florida dismissed standout edge rusher Brenton Cox this week, but overcame the loss after some early struggles. Seven wins was shooting par for the 2022 Gators, and at 5-4 with South Carolina and Vanderbilt up next, Billy Napier’s first season should at least be deemed respectable, even by lofty standards in Gainesville.

-Texas A&M was hampered by a flu bug, sidelining a handful of players including quarterback Connor Weigman. Haynes King now has three stints as a starter this season (Games 1-2, 6-7 and 9), but he couldn’t get anything going in the second half after a strong first half aided by three total touchdowns from Devin Achane. Weigman should be back under center next week at Auburn, as the 3-6 Aggies need to sweep their final three games just to avoid missing a bowl for the first time since 2008.

 

Auburn 33 - Mississippi State 39 - OT

-Auburn almost turned the tables on Mississippi State after blowing 25-point lead in last year’s meeting. The Tigers trailed 24-6 after 30 minutes in Cadillac Williams’ head-coaching debut, but they scored 27 second-half points before a late field goal by the Bulldogs sent the game to overtime. Anders Carlson pushed a kick wide right in the top half of overtime, and Mississippi State needed just three plays to find the end zone for a 39-33 win to clinch bowl eligibility. Auburn fought under Bryan Harsin and clearly will fight for Williams, despite managing just 75 passing yards in Starkville. A potential payoff after five straight defeats could happen next Saturday night at home against Texas A&M.

 

South Carolina 38 - Vanderbilt 27

-I thought Vanderbilt had a great chance to end its 25-game SEC losing streak, but instead the Commodores defense proved to be just the medicine South Carolina needed to spark a sputtering offense. The Gamecocks scored 31 points in the first half and were never seriously threatened in their 38-27 win in Nashville to reach bowl eligibility. The Commodores moved the ball well, as Re’Mahn Davis had a big night on the ground with 167 yards, but four turnovers doomed them. With the losing streak at 26, Vanderbilt heads to Kentucky next week for another swing at success.

 

-LSU and Georgia now are in control for the SEC Championship Game. The Bulldogs wrap up the SEC East next week with a win at Mississippi State or a Tennessee loss to Missouri. LSU can book itself in Atlanta with a win at Arkansas and an Ole Miss loss to Alabama. As for the College Football Playoff, it’s a little early to play out scenarios, but both the Tigers and Volunteers were greatly aided by No. 4 Clemson getting routed at Notre Dame. Tennessee’s late schedule may hurt it, but some chaos in the Pac-12 and Big 12 could be all the Vols need to get back to the top four.

 

Non-SEC Results that Surprised Me

1. Michigan State 23, (16) Illinois 15

2. Notre Dame 35, (4) Clemson 14

3. Georgia State 42, Southern Miss 14

4. BYU 31, Boise State 28

5. Iowa 24, Purdue 3

 

Matt’s Top 25

1. Georgia

2. Ohio State

3. Michigan

4. TCU

5. Tennessee

6. Oregon

7. LSU

8. UCLA

9. USC

10. Ole Miss

11. Alabama

12. Clemson

13. Utah

14. Penn State

15. North Carolina

16. Tulane

17. Texas

18. N.C. State

19. Liberty

20. Kansas State

21. Notre Dame

22. Florida State

23. Kansas

24. Oklahoma State

25. Washington

 

Week 11 Order of Preference

1. No. 10 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

2. No. 7 LSU at Arkansas, Noon ET (ESPN)

3. No. 1 Georgia at Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

4. Missouri at No. 5 Tennessee, Noon ET (CBS)

5. Texas A&M at Auburn, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

6. South Carolina at Florida, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

7. Vanderbilt at Kentucky, Noon ET (SEC Network)

 

Week 11 Non-SEC Games to Watch

1. No. 4 TCU at No. 18 Texas, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

2. No. 24 Washington at No. 6 Oregon, 7 p.m. ET (FOX)

3. No. 22 UCF at No. 16 Tulane, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

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.