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Week 12 SEC Recap

By Southern Pigskin Staff
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Matt Smith recaps week 12 in the SEC.

The SEC made it through perhaps its least interesting schedule of the season, thanks in large part to three of the four conference games coming down to the wire. The six non-conference games were as gross as we thought they would be.

Two teams that seemingly had little chance to play in the postseason a month ago wrapped up bowl trips, while two of the past four division champions will now need a win next week to reach bowl eligibility, one of those without their head coach and the other about to say goodbye to its head coach.

Before turning the page to Rivalry Week and the best football weekend of the year, let’s review the penultimate Saturday of the regular season in the SEC.

Game Thoughts and Takeaways
Kentucky 56, New Mexico State 16
It was over when: After some choppy moments in the first half, Kentucky stuck a fork in the Aggies with Will Levis’ third touchdown pass of the half in the final minute of the second quarter to extend its lead to 35-13.

*Chris Rodriguez eclipsed 2,500 career rushing yards with 119 yards and a touchdown for the Wildcats. It was Rodriguez’s third straight 100-yard game after a tough stretch in losses to Georgia and Mississippi State.

*Levis had his second career four-touchdown day, as he threw for 419 yards on just 21 completions.

*Kentucky hasn’t lost a non-conference game since 2017 to Louisville. The Wildcats visit the Cardinals next Saturday night.

(1) Georgia 56, Charleston Southern 7
It was over when: Georgia ran for 171 yards and scored 28 points in the first quarter after Stetson Bennett IV was intercepted on his first throw of the afternoon. Nose tackle Jordan Davis scored his first career touchdown on a one-yard score for the game’s first points.

*Charleston Southern did score an offensive touchdown, but it came on a wild play in which a Bulldogs interception by Xavian Sorey was fumbled and recovered by the Buccaneers’ Garris Schwarting, who ran 70 yards for the score. It was only the fourth touchdown allowed by the Georgia defense in Sanford Stadium this season.

*Bennett’s day was done in the second quarter, with J.T. Daniels finishing the half and working into the third quarter before giving way to Carson Beck and Brock Vandagriff in the second half. All but Vandagriff threw touchdown passes, with Bennett and Beck also throwing interceptions.

*Georgia finished undefeated at home for the fourth time in five years, with the Bulldogs’ only loss in Athens since 2017 coming in 2019 in overtime to a South Carolina team that finished 4-8.

(25) Mississippi State 55, Tennessee State 10
It was over when: Will Rogers and Austin Williams connected twice for scores in the first quarter to help the Bulldogs build a 21-0 lead over head coach Eddie George and the visiting Tigers.

*Rogers completed more than 80 percent of his passes for the third time in the last four games, finishing 28-of-34 for 391 yards and five touchdowns on a short day of work. An Egg Bowl win on Thursday night could make him worthy of All-SEC honors.

*George ran for 3,768 yards in his Ohio State career that included the 1995 Heisman Trophy, but his team managed just 37 yards on the ground on Saturday in Starkville. 

*The Bulldogs had multiple rushing touchdowns for just the third time this season, as both Joquavious Marks and Dillon Johnson found the end zone.

*Mississippi State finished with an even 600 yards of offense.

(16) Texas A&M 52, Prairie View A&M 3
It was over when: Antonio Johnson stripped Panthers quarterback Jawon Pass, with linebacker Aaron Hansford jumping on the loose ball and running it back 17 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 first-quarter lead for the Aggies.

*The leading rusher in the game was actually Prairie View A&M’s Jaden Stewart, who finished with an even 100 yards. The Aggies ran it by committee for obvious reasons, with four different players registering eight or more carries. Devon Achane had a pair of touchdown runs.

*The Panthers completed just two of 12 pass attempts for seven yards. They need a win over Mississippi Valley State next week to play in the SWAC Championship Game on Dec. 4 against Deion Sanders and Jackson State.

(2) Alabama 42, (21) Arkansas 35
It was over when: Cameron Little’s onsides kick bounced out of bounds with a minute to go after a K.J. Jefferson touchdown pass to Raheim Sanders had cut the Alabama lead to seven. With the Razorbacks out of timeouts, the Crimson Tide ran out the clock to clinch the SEC West title and a date with Georgia in two weeks.

*Alabama’s passing game was on fire, as Bryce Young threw for a school-record 561 yards, surpassing the previous high of 484 set by Scott Hunter 52 years ago. He threw five touchdowns, three to Jameson Williams.

*Williams and John Metchie were in a duel for Young’s top target, with Metchie holding a 122-121 yards advantage at halftime. Williams’ 40-yard touchdown reception for the game-winning points in the fourth quarter helped vault him over the top, as he outproduced his teammate, 190-173.

*Treylon Burks hasn’t been fully healthy since September, but the Arkansas wide receiver has gutted it out week after week. He battled an arm injury on Saturday and briefly left the game, but made big play after big play to keep Arkansas within striking distance. He finished with eight catches for 179 yards two touchdowns.

*Alabama’s defense was less than stellar against an Arkansas offense that managed just 13 points in regulation last week against LSU. The Hogs averaged 6.4 yards per play, and Jefferson threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns with just eight incompletions. Alabama hasn’t quite put everything together on both sides of the ball on the same day. The Crimson Tide has two weeks to figure it out, or they’ll miss the College Football Playoff for the second time in three seasons.

*Trailing 34-21, Arkansas faked a field goal on 4th and 9, with Reid Bauer finding tight end Blake Kern for a 32-yard touchdown pass. With a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter, it was an inexcusable gaffe by the Alabama special teams.

*Arkansas now has an increasingly interesting game on Friday against 6-5 Missouri, winners of three of its last four games to reach bowl eligibility. The Razorbacks will be a significant favorite, but it’s a short week after playing Alabama, and the Tigers have won six of seven meetings in SEC play. 

Missouri 24, Florida 23 (OT)
It was over when: Eli Drinkwitz rolled the dice in overtime, going for two, the win and bowl eligibility. His team made him look like a genius, as Connor Bazelak found Daniel Parker on a cross-field throwback pass for the game-winning score just after a 13-yard touchdown run by Tyler Badie had cut the lead to one.

*The first-half was a field goal festival only, with the Tigers holding a three makes to two edge over the Gators in a 9-6 game that seemed likely to reach the 30s on both sides. Even with overtime, it never got close to that.

*Neither offense could gain much traction. Florida edged Missouri in yards per play, 5.1 to 4.6, and the two teams combined to convert just eight of 33 third-down attempts. Missouri was more balanced with 165 passing yards and 149 sack-adjusted rushing yards, while the Gators did most of their work through the air behind 261 yards from Emory Jones.

*Dan Mullen was fired on Sunday afternoon after going 34-15 in four seasons with the Gators, but just 2-9 in his last 11 games against Power Five opponents. It felt like a marriage that couldn’t be saved despite a number of wonderful moments together. Both need to look themselves in the mirror before taking their next steps. The next Gators coach must but more of a premium on recruiting and not see geography as a crutch. Do they try a third former Nick Saban assistant in Billy Napier after failures with Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain? Do they want Power Five experience with Matt Campbell? Florida is a great job in a great location, but gold doesn’t mine itself, and Florida has often been outworked for talent. For Mullen, his personality makes him a better fit at a second-tier job. Maryland is likely a year away from opening, but that would make a lot of sense with the program in a similar state in the Big Ten East to what Mississippi State is in the SEC West.

*Missouri now gets a free shot as a sizable underdog on Friday at 7-4 Arkansas. Both teams are in the postseason and have delivered some classic games since becoming annual foes in 2014. There will be some tired legs after both teams played hard-fought games on Saturday, but it should be an entertaining game with the Tigers playing their best football of the season.

South Carolina 21, Auburn 17
It was over when: Another controversial call involving Auburn this time went against the Tigers, as replay review ruled that a late Gamecocks punt had hit Auburn’s Jaylin Simpson, denying the Tigers a chance at a game-winning drive and allowing South Carolina to run out the clock and lock up a bowl trip.

*If you like old-school football, this was a game for you. South Carolina’s Jason Brown threw just 15 passes, but he made them count, completing 10 with three touchdown passes. Auburn’s Tank Bigsby ran for 164 yards and a touchdown.

*The Tigers scored two touchdowns on their first three possessions, but then scored just a single field goal in their final seven. T.J. Finley was adequate in his first start at Auburn, completing 17 of 32 passes for 188 yards with no turnovers, however, he was just 2-of-6 in the fourth quarter.

*Both teams now sit at 6-5 heading into their in-state rivalry games next week, both at home.

Tennessee 60, South Alabama 14
It was over when: The Volunteers took each of their first four possessions to the end zone to build a 28-0 over the depleted Jaguars. 

*Hendon Hooker was crisp, misfiring just three times on 23 attempts and throwing a pair of touchdown passes. Both Velus Jones Jr. and Cedric Tillman reached the 100-yard mark on a night where the Vols were able to go deep into their bench.

*Specials teams were a bit of a disaster for the Volunteers, as South Alabama successfully converted both a fake punt and an onsides kick. It’s nitpicking, but process is important even in a game like this one, and there were some clear failures in that area on Saturday night.

*Tennessee scored its final four points on a pair of safeties – one on a sack and one on a bad snap through the end zone.

*South Alabama wide receiver Jalen Tolbert’s name will be mentioned come NFL Draft season. Tolbert caught seven passes for 143 yards and a 68-yard touchdown on a difficult night for the Jaguars.

*Tennessee will play in a bowl game for just the second time in five seasons, with the Music City Bowl in Nashville the most likely destination.

(12) Ole Miss 31, Vanderbilt 17
It was over when: After catching a touchdown earlier in the half, Dontario Drummond ran a punt Vanderbilt back 32 yards late in the second quarter to set Ole Miss up at the Commodores 18-yard line. The Rebels punched it in three players later on a short Jerrion Ealy touchdown run to take a 24-6 halftime lead, and any concerns about a disaster in a sandwich game were alleviated.

*It was the clunky struggle that many of us expected for Ole Miss with the Egg Bowl looming on Thanksgiving Night, as the Rebels were shaky in the red zone and on third down, failing to score twice inside the Vanderbilt 20-yard line and converting just one of nine attempts on third and fourth downs. This was a game Ole Miss just needed to get through, and it did that, despite holding the ball for only 21 minutes.

*Matt Corral’s numbers have dipped too significantly for him to be in the Heisman Trophy race, but he was solid in his final game in Oxford, completing 27 of 36 passes for 326 yards with a pair of early touchdowns and a late interception. Split the credit for the Rebels resurrection however you want between Corral and Lane Kiffin, but Corral weathered some early storms and shouldn’t take a back seat to any Ole Miss quarterback in history not named Manning.

*Despite a 20th straight SEC loss, Vanderbilt has shown some improvement of late, with running back Rocko Griffin having another 100-yard day, finishing with 117 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Chris Pierce topped 100 yards receiving in an SEC game for the first time this season.

LSU 27, Louisiana-Monroe 14
It was over when: Max Johnson found Brian Thomas over the middle for a 42-yard touchdown late in the third quarter to finally create some material separation with a 24-7 Tigers lead over a pesky Warhawks team.

*Wearing their purple jerseys and white helmets, the Tigers couldn’t run the ball consistently, instead having to rely on Johnson to produce yards. After not playing in most of last week’s loss to Arkansas, Johnson delivered with a 22-of-33 performance for 319 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Johnson can be all over the map, but he’s a fighter.

*Sacks were again a problem, with the Warhawks dropping Johnson three times. Only Tennessee has allowed more sacks this season among SEC teams.

*LSU must defeat Texas A&M next Saturday night in Baton Rouge to avoid its first losing season since 1999.

Power Ranking the SEC
1. Georgia (11-0, 8-0)
2. Alabama (10-1, 6-1)
3. Ole Miss (9-2, 5-2)
4. Arkansas (7-4, 3-4)
5. Mississippi State (7-4, 4-3)
6. Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3)
7. Tennessee (6-5, 3-4)
8. Kentucky (8-3, 5-3)
9. Auburn (6-5, 3-4)
10. LSU (5-6, 2-5)
11. Missouri (6-5, 3-4)
12. South Carolina (6-5, 3-5)
13. Florida (5-6, 2-6)
14. Vanderbilt (2-9, 0-7)

National Thoughts
ACC: No. 18 Pittsburgh (9-2, 6-1) wrapped up the ACC Coastal title in a wild 48-38 shootout win over Virginia (6-5, 4-3). Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison connected for four touchdowns, with Addison going for over 200 yards…The ACC Atlantic will come down to next weekend after Clemson (8-3, 6-2) rolled over No. 10 Wake Forest (9-2, 6-1), 48-27. The Deacons will win the division with a win at Boston College next Saturday…No. 20 N.C. State (8-3, 5-2) kept title hopes alive with a 41-17 rout of Syracuse (5-6, 2-5). The Wolfpack need a win Friday over North Carolina and a Wake Forest loss to get to Charlotte. Should both lose, Clemson will make its seventh straight ACC Championship Game appearance…No. 8 Notre Dame (10-1) remained very much alive for a CFP berth, hammering Georgia Tech (3-8, 2-6), 55-0, in South Bend. The Irish led 45-0 at halftime and have not allowed a touchdown since October…Florida State (5-6, 4-4) inched closer to a bowl, hanging on for a 26-23 road win at Boston College (6-5, 2-5). Mike Norvell has done a nice job down the stretch with the Seminoles, who visit rival Florida next week…Miami (FL) (6-5, 4-3) will play in the postseason after outlasting Virginia Tech (5-6, 3-4), 38-26.

Big 12: No. 9 Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1) was dominant yet again, blanking Texas Tech (6-5, 3-5) in Lubbock, 23-0, to clinch a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game for the first time. The Cowboys have allowed just 23 points in the last four games…Who joins Oklahoma State in Arlington will be decided next week. No. 13 Oklahoma (10-1, 6-1) will get there with a win over the Cowboys in Bedlam after surviving Iowa State (6-5, 4-4) in Norman, 28-21…If Oklahoma State wins, No. 11 Baylor (9-2, 6-2) would get a revenge opportunity with Oklahoma State should it beat Texas Tech in Waco. The Bears, despite losing quarterback Gerry Bohanon early in the game, led from start to finish in a 20-10 win at Kansas State (7-4, 4-4)…Texas (4-7, 2-6) dropped its sixth straight game, falling to West Virginia (5-6, 3-5) in Morgantown, 31-23. The Longhorns must beat Kansas State on Friday to avoid their first season finishing four or more games under .500 since going 1-9 in 1956.

Big Ten: Hello, Buckeyes. No. 4 Ohio State (10-1, 8-0) hammered No. 7 Michigan State (9-2, 6-2), 56-7, in Columbus. The Buckeyes led 49-0 at halftime after C.J. Stroud threw six touchdowns in the first half, two each to Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Stroud’s 32-of-35 day for 432 yards may have vaulted him to the top of the Heisman Trophy race…Now comes rival Michigan (10-1, 7-1) which had nothing resembling a letdown in its 59-18 destruction of Maryland (5-6, 2-6). After last year’s game was canceled, the historic rivals will renew their series next Saturday in Ann Arbor with the Big Ten East title and a likely College Football Playoff berth at stake…The other side of the Big Ten comes down to three teams, with No. 15 Wisconsin (8-3, 6-2) in control after a 35-28 escape over Nebraska (3-8, 1-7). It was the Cornhuskers’ tenth straight loss by single digits…No. 17 Iowa (9-2, 6-2) ended the bowl hopes of Illinois (4-7, 3-5) with a 33-23 win over the Illini in Iowa City, while Minnesota (7-4, 5-3) stayed in the race with a 35-14 thumping of hapless Indiana (2-9, 0-8)…Wisconsin is in with a win at Minnesota, Iowa needs a win and a Badgers loss, and the Gophers need a win, an Iowa loss and a Purdue to win to tilt the tiebreakers in their favor…Wrigley Field hosted a football game again on Saturday, with Purdue (7-4, 5-3) continuing a miserable season for Northwestern (3-8, 1-7) in a 32-14 Boilermakers win.

Pac-12: Down goes Oregon, as No. 23 Utah (8-3, 7-1) embarrassed the third-ranked Ducks (9-2, 6-2), 38-7, in Salt Lake City. Oregon was lifeless on offense with quarterback Anthony Brown fighting a hand injury, managing just 294 yards of offense. The Utes will play in the Pac-12 Championship Game for the third time in four seasons…Oregon’s loss opened the door for rival Oregon State (7-4, 5-3), which won a defensive battle with Arizona State (7-4, 5-3) in Corvallis, 24-10. The Beavers take the Pac-12 North with a Civil War win at Oregon and a loss by Washington State in the Apple Cup…Washington State (6-5, 5-3) won a Fog Bowl over Arizona (1-10, 1-7) on Friday night, 44-18. The Cougars will play for the conference title with a win over Washington and an Oregon State win over Oregon…The Victory Bell went to UCLA (7-4, 5-3), who pounded rival USC (4-6, 3-5), 62-33. The Trojans finished just 1-4 in Pac-12 home games this season, and will need to beat BYU next week and California on Dec. 4 to make a bowl game…Up I-5 in the Bay Area, California (4-6, 3-4) took the Axe, rolling over Stanford (3-8, 2-7), 41-11, in the Big Game.

Group of Five: No. 5 Cincinnati (11-0, 7-0) was supposed to get its biggest test of the year from SMU (8-3, 4-3), but that certainly never happened, as the Bearcats scored the game’s first 48 points in a 48-14 Senior Day win. Cincinnati is now in great position to make the CFP, but must quickly turn the page for a Friday afternoon game at surging East Carolina…No. 22 UTSA (11-0, 7-0) barely stayed perfect with a walk-off touchdown to defeat UAB (7-4, 5-2). Frank Harris’ pass was deflected and caught, continuing a season of magic for the Roadrunners…Utah State (8-3, 5-2) lost control of the Mountain West Mountain Division, as Wyoming (6-5, 2-5) came into Logan and hung 44 on the Aggies in a 44-17 win. Utah State, Air Force and Boise State are tied for the division lead, with the Falcons having the inside track…The Sun Belt Championship Game is set, with Appalachian State (9-2, 6-1) visiting Louisiana-Lafayette (10-1, 7-0) on Dec. 4. The Ragin’ Cajuns were 41-13 winners over the Mountaineers earlier this season in Lafayette.

Matt’s Top 25
1. Georgia
2. Cincinnati
3. Ohio State
4. Alabama
5. Notre Dame
6. Michigan
7. Oklahoma State
8. Baylor
9. Ole Miss
10. Oklahoma
11. Oregon
12. BYU
13. Michigan State
14. UTSA
15. Utah
16. Wisconsin
17. Texas A&M
18. Houston
19. Iowa
20. Pittsburgh
21. Arkansas
22. Wake Forest
23. San Diego State
24. Mississippi State
25. Clemson  

A Peek at Next Week
Thursday/Friday:
1. (8) Ole Miss at Mississippi State, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
2. (4) Cincinnati at East Carolina, Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
3. Kansas State at Texas, Friday, Noon ET (FOX)
4. North Carolina at (24) N.C. State, Friday, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
5. (17) Iowa at Nebraska, Friday, 1:30 p.m. ET (BTN)

Early Afternoon:
Screen 1: (2) Ohio State at (6) Michigan, Noon ET (FOX)
Screen 2: Texas Tech at (9) Baylor, Noon ET (FS1)
Screen 3: (21) Wake Forest at Boston College, Noon ET (ESPN2)

Late Afternoon:
Screen 1: (3) Alabama at Auburn, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Screen 2: (18) Wisconsin at Minnesota, 4 p.m. ET (FOX)
Screen 3: Oregon State at (11) Oregon, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Primetime:
Screen 1: (10) Oklahoma at (7) Oklahoma State, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Screen 2: Clemson at South Carolina, 7:30 p.m. ET (SECN)
Screen 3: (5) Notre Dame at Stanford, 8 p.m. ET (FOX)