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SEC Recap: Week 4

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith recaps Week 4 in the SEC

Thoughts and Musings

 

- I can’t help but think back to this exact Saturday six years ago – Sept. 24, 2016 – when Auburn escaped LSU with an 18-13 win after LSU’s game-winning touchdown play had occurred a second after the clock hit zero. Had Auburn lost that game, Gus Malzahn was going to get fired the next day. Instead, Malzahn was given new life, put together a six-game winning streak, and stayed on The Plains for four more seasons before being dismissed in December 2020.

 

Spinning it forward to Saturday, the same fate was likely in the cards for Bryan Harsin if Auburn had lost to Missouri. It did. Twice. But the scoreboard in Jordan-Hare Stadium stated Auburn 17, Missouri 14. In a more miraculous save than Malzahn, Harsin survived a 26-yard Missouri field goal attempt in the final seconds of regulation that would have won the game, as well as Nathaniel Peat’s sideline scamper for the apparent game-winning touchdown in overtime that turned into a fumble and touchback when Peat tried to switch hands at the one-yard line and lost control of the football. Auburn, somehow, is 3-1, and now hosts that same LSU team next week that couldn’t quite nail Malzahn’s coffin shut six years ago. Will LSU close the deal this time?

 

- As for the actual football played in Auburn on Saturday, it was awful. It was a punt-fest, and neither team scored in the second half until Auburn converted a field goal in overtime (after a miss that was negated on a Missouri offsides penalty). The teams failed to reach 500 yards of combined offense, even with the aid of overtime. Less than 25 percent of third-down attempts were converted. These weren’t simply two good defenses, as both units allowed more than 40 points in their only prior games against Power Five opponents. Auburn surprisingly struggled to run the football, with Tank Bigsby averaging just over two yards per attempt. It was an ugly game, fitting of the 2022 Auburn Tigers. It was a crazy ending, fitting of every Auburn Tigers in recent memory.

 

- Tennessee needed quarterback Hendon Hooker to be great to finally take down No. 20 Florida, and the fifth-year senior was just that, shredding the Gators defense for 460 yards of total offense and three total touchdowns as the No. 11 Vols held on late for a 38-33 win to move to 4-0. Hooker did all of that without top receiver Cedric Tillman, sidelined with an ankle injury. Anthony Richardson was a worthy foe with 453 yards through the air and four total touchdowns, but the 2-2 Gators turned it over twice and lost the crucial middle eight minutes, 14-0, which included a 99-yard touchdown drive by Tennessee to close the first half. Neither defense could find many answers, but both quarterbacks were brilliant. For each team, the path to victory will be for its quarterback to make plays with both arm and legs, and for its inefficient defense to force turnovers. Tennessee gets a week off to enjoy just its second win over Florida in 18 meetings before a season-defining five-game stretch that includes LSU, Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia.

 

- Arkansas has figured out almost every possible way to lose to Texas A&M since the series moved to AT&T Stadium in 2014. After six straight losses in that building to the Aggies, the Hogs finally broke through with a win last season. Saturday night, it was back to their old tricks, as No. 10 Arkansas fell 23-21 to the 23rd-ranked Aggies. Texas A&M was sparked by a 99-yard fumble return touchdown on an errant reach by Razorbacks quarterback K.J. Jefferson. After allowing 23 straight points to trail by nine, the Hogs rallied and had a chance to take a lead in the final minutes, but a bad snap forced a mid-range instead of short field goal attempt for Cam Little. In true Arkansas-in-the-Metroplex fashion, Little’s kick deflected off the top of the upright, and bounced back onto the field. Texas A&M ran out the clock, and both teams walked out of the stadium with 3-1 records.

 

- As for the “normal” portions of the game, The Texas A&M offense managed just 17 points, but the defense dominated the second and third quarters after absorbing an early punch. Max Johnson is a creator, but down to down, he’s not an ideal quarterback for this Aggies offense, completing just 11 passes. He also may have lost his top target, Ainias Smith, to a leg injury for an extended period of time. Arkansas outgained the Aggies by 72 yards, but a couple disastrous plays were the difference. It’s an old story, but one they didn’t expect to tell again after last year’s victory. Now a wounded Razorbacks team heads home to play Alabama needing a win to keep any hopes of an SEC West title alive.

 

- Sam Pittman burning two timeouts in two plays prior to Arkansas’ missed field goal attempt was a coaching mistake. Instead of having a chance to get the ball back with more than a minute left, Pittman allowed Texas A&M to run out the clock. It’s the little things in this sport, and it’s certainly the little things when these two teams get together.

 

- No. 2 Alabama was dominant on both sides of the ball in a 55-3 destruction of Vanderbilt, outgaining the Commodores by just shy of 500 yards. Sophomore JaCorey Brooks continued his trek toward stardom with six receptions for 117 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Now the schedule gets real with Arkansas, Texas A&M and Tennessee in the next three weeks. Sticking with passing quarterback A.J. Swann, Vanderbilt could only manage 14 yards on the ground. Bury this one quickly, heal a bit during the off week, and take some swings against Ole Miss and Missouri in October.

 

- No. 1 Georgia played with its food in its 39-22 win over Kent State, turning the ball over twice and even allowing the Golden Flashes to attempt a two-point conversion that would have made it a one-score game in the fourth quarter. Brock Bowers did what he does, amassing 137 all-purpose yards and a pair of “rushing” touchdowns. There aren’t any red flags from this one to take into October, but given the Bulldogs won by 41 a week ago and play Missouri next week, this game didn’t fit the definition of a sandwich game. At least Kirby Smart will have plenty to yell about in practices and meetings this week.

 

- Will Rogers and the Mississippi State offense got back on track after a meltdown at LSU last week in the Bulldogs’ 45-14 rout of Bowling Green. Rogers connected on 38 of 49 attempts with six touchdowns, as Mississippi State put up 31 first-half points against a Falcons team playing without head coach Scot Loeffler, who was dealing with a health matter. Texas A&M comes to town next week in a huge game for Mississippi State with what lies ahead on the schedule. The Aggies defense is very good, but it’s at home, not a Saturday night in Baton Rouge. We’ll see then what lessons this team learned from their disastrous fourth-quarter a week ago.

 

- Perhaps we need to pump the brakes on the Ole Miss defense, which dominated three lousy offenses prior to Saturday’s date with Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane, known for their passing attack, gashed the Rebels for 262 yards on the ground. A Tulsa upset bid was stymied, however, by run defense issues of its own, as Ole Miss continued its dominant ways on the ground with 140 yards from freshman phenom Quinshon Judkins and another 116 yards from quarterback Jaxson Dart. Ole Miss went on a 28-3 run after trailing, 14-7, holding on for a 35-27 win to improve to 4-0. The long preseason for the Rebels is finally over, as Kentucky comes to Oxford next week. There are probably more questions than a week ago, but answers are finally coming.

 

- No. 8 Kentucky was not sharp in its 31-23 win over Northern Illinois, but the Wildcats did come up with some explosive plays in the passing game. Will Levis’ completions went for an average of 17 yards, with that number aided by touchdown passes of 70 and 69 yards to Barion Brown and Tayvion Robinson respectively. The offensive line struggled, allowing five sacks, and remains a concern with SEC play resuming next week at Ole Miss.

 

Non-SEC Results that Surprised Me

1. Middle Tennessee 45, Miami (FL) 31

2. Minnesota 34, Michigan State 7

3. UTEP 27, Boise State 10

4. Southern Miss 27, Tulane 24

5. Louisiana-Monroe 21, Louisiana-Lafayette 17

 

Top 25

1. Georgia

2. Ohio State

3. Penn State

4. Alabama

5. USC

6. Florida State

7. Tennessee

8. Clemson

9. Kentucky

10. Kansas

11. Syracuse

12. Washington

13. N.C. State

14. Minnesota

15. Ole Miss

16. Michigan

17. Oregon

18. Oklahoma State

19. Texas Tech

20. Kansas State

21. Wake Forest

22. BYU

23. Baylor

24. Texas A&M

25. Arkansas

 

Week 5 Order of Preference

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

2. No. 2 Alabama at No. 20 Arkansas, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

3. No. 17 Texas A&M at Mississippi State, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

4. LSU at Auburn, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

5. No. 1 Georgia at Missouri, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

6. Eastern Washington at Florida, Noon ET (ESPN+)

7. South Carolina State at South Carolina, Noon ET (SEC Network)

 

Week 5 Non-SEC Games to Watch

1. N.C. State at No. 5 Clemson, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

2. No. 4 Michigan at Iowa, Noon ET (FOX)

3. No. 22 Wake Forest at No. 23 Florida State, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

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.