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Week Eleven SEC Recap

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith recaps week eleven in SEC.

A busy Saturday in the SEC saw five of the eight games come down to the final minutes, with the most notable outcome being Alabama moving to the brink of winning a sixth SEC West title in eight years after losses by Auburn and Texas A&M.

If there was a theme this week, it was in-game adjustments, as a number of games saw early bursts quickly erased. With eight games to get through, let’s not waste any more time before reviewing Week 11 in the SEC.

Game Thoughts and Takeaways
Mississippi State 43, (17) Auburn 34        
It was over when: Will Rogers connected on his sixth touchdown pass of the day, to Malik Heath from six yards out, to put Mississippi State ahead, 43-28, midway through the fourth quarter. It was the sixth straight Bulldogs possession, save one ended by halftime, that finished in the end zone after Auburn had built a seemingly commanding 28-3 lead.

*Bo Nix started on fire after a long day a week ago at Texas A&M, completing his first nine passes to help Auburn build a seemingly commanding 28-3 second-quarter lead. Nix had two touchdown passes, and a third was switched to a 57-yard running score by Jett Johnson after the screen pass from Nix was deemed to be backwards. In that context, his 27-of-41 for 377 yards line seems pretty pedestrian, although defense and special teams were the primary reasons for the disastrous loss that has taken the Tigers out of the SEC West title race.

*The game turned in the middle eight minutes, as Mississippi State sandwiched two touchdowns drives around halftime to cut a 25-point deficit to 11. An Auburn punt to the one-yard line seemed to have squelched some momentum, but Rogers directed a brilliant 99-yard touchdown drive with seven completions to make it 28-23. A blocked field goal was then turned into six points on Rogers’ fourth scoring pass of the day, putting the Bulldogs up 29-28 early in the fourth quarter.

*Rogers was exceptional for a fourth straight game after taking a beating in a blowout loss to Alabama. He attempted 55 passes, completing 80 percent of those for 415 yards and six touchdowns. As good of seasons as Matt Corral and Bryce Young have had, Rogers may be an Egg Bowl win from earning All-SEC honors.

*Mike Leach chased points in the third quarter by going for two down 28-23. The failure, along with another failure after the next touchdown, left the Bulldogs leading only 36-28 when they should have been up by 10. It ultimately didn’t matter, but it was an undisciplined mistake that we see far too often from head coaches in this sport. 

(2) Alabama 59, New Mexico State 3
It was over when: After an Aggies field goal, big-play Jameson Williams struck once again, hauling in a 50-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Young to begin a run of 59 consecutive points by the Crimson Tide, who improved to 54-2 in regular-season non-conference games under Nick Saban.

*Bryce Young finished with a 261.7 passer rating in a half of work, missing on just two of 23 attempts with five going for touchdowns.

*Williams caught three of Young’s five touchdowns on another stellar day, catching six total passes for 158 yards. John Metchie equaled Williams’ reception output, but his six catches only went for 48 yards.

*Cool moment for Trey Sanders in the second half, as the Alabama running back scored his first touchdown in Bryant-Denny Stadium with a five-yard score. Sanders was seriously injured in a car accident in 2020 and has gradually worked his way back into the Crimson Tide rotation.

*Alabama linebacker Will Anderson registered two more sacks on Saturday, upping his now nation-leading total to 12.5. It will probably take a big game and a win against Georgia, but Anderson could find himself in the Heisman Trophy mix three weeks from now when ballots are due.

*After a field goal on its second possession, New Mexico State managed just 79 total yards the rest of the game.

*Four different quarterbacks played for Alabama, including Braxton Barker, son of Jay Barker, who quarterbacked Alabama to the 1992 national title and was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 1994.

Florida 70, Samford 52
It was over when: Florida finally put away the Bulldogs with a 24-yard touchdown run from Dameon Pierce with six minutes to go, taking a three-score lead for the first time all game and scoring the final points of a wild afternoon in The Swamp.

*The two offenses combined for 1,247 yards, with the Gators topping 700 yards. Emory Jones broke Tim Tebow’s school record for total offense with 550 yards, 464 of those coming through the air, along with six touchdown passes.

*Samford briefly held a two-score lead at 42-28 late in the second quarter, but Florida quickly got back within seven on a 78-yard scoring drive to close the first half. After a game-tying score to start the third quarter, the Gators never trailed again despite struggling to put away a feisty Bulldogs team.

*With a hat tip to Matt Hayes of Saturday Down South, Samford’s 52 points were the most ever by an FCS tea against a Power Five opponent. Bulldogs quarterback Liam Welch finished with 400 yards even through the air and had five total passing and rushing touchdowns.

(1) Georgia 41, Tennessee 17
It was over when: A blatant horse-collar tackle penalty by Tennessee’s Byron Young allowed a stalled Georgia drive to continue, with the Bulldogs capitalizing on the Vols’ mistake with three points to take a 27-10 lead late in the third quarter. The mostly impenetrable Bulldogs defense held firm the rest of the way, and Tennessee never again threatened to make the game interesting.

*Tennessee struck first with a rare 10-play scoring drive to start the game, capped by a Hendon Hooker nine-yard touchdown pass to Velus Jones. It was Georgia’s largest deficit of the season, but it only lasted for 152 seconds until James Cook sliced through the Volunteers defense for 39 yards and a tying touchdown.

*Momentum swung midway through the second quarter when Derion Kendrick intercepted Hendon Hooker, and Georgia turned the takeaway into points with a short but tricky drive capped by a Stetson Bennett IV nine-yard touchdown run that gave the Bulldogs their first lead at 17-10. Efficiency in the short-to-intermediate passing game for Tennessee was crucial to the Vols maintaining a presence in the game, and mistakes like that one doomed their chances after a strong first quarter-plus.

*Georgia’s defense got a good test with the explosiveness and tempo of Tennessee’s attack, neither of which the Bulldogs had seen much of in their dominant run through their first nine games. Consider this test passed, as the Vols struggled to land many punches after the opening drive. Tennessee finished with just 17 points after coming into the game averaging 36 points in SEC play.

*The day belonged to Cook, who found the end zone three times and ran for 104 yards. He caught a beautiful pass in the corner of the end zone for a 23-yard score in the second quarter to put Georgia ahead by two scores. No Georgia player is more dangerous with the ball in his hands.

*Bennett wasn’t spectacular, but he provided Georgia with another solid performance, using his legs as a weapon in picking up some key first downs. For right or wrong, the Bulldogs are clearly his team going forward into the SEC Championship Game.

*Georgia became the first SEC East team to go 8-0 in conference play since Florida in 2009.

Missouri 31, South Carolina 28
It was over when: Tyler Badie ran for 11 yards on a 3rd-and-3 with two minutes remaining to clinch the game for Missouri after a pair of South Carolina touchdowns had trimmed a seemingly insurmountable 31-14 fourth-quarter lead to 31-28.

*A quarterback mystery lingered over this game all week. The Tigers welcomed back Connor Bazelak after missing last week’s loss to Georgia, but South Carolina had to turn to third-stringer Jason Brown again after Zeb Noland was unable to go. Neither were great, with Brown throwing for 193 yards and Bazelak just 180, which each having multiple turnovers.

*A sloppy first half saw Missouri take a 17-14 lead into the locker room. Both teams turned a takeaway into points, but the Tigers dominated the stat sheet with a 7.2 to 3.7 advantage in yards per play.

*Late in the third quarter, Martez Manuel stripped Brown deep in Gamecocks territory, and Trajan Jeffcoat fell on the loose ball in the end zone for a Missouri touchdown. The touchdown gave the Tigers a 24-14 lead.

*Badie had to close the game for Missouri after the defense could not. He ran out the final five minutes and went over 200 yards for the day on 34 carries, to go along with five receptions. Badie has been a steady workhorse all season for a disappointing Tigers team.

*The Gamecocks improving run game was a major disappointment, as the SEC’s worst run defense by a wide margin shut down Kevin Harris and Zaquandre White, selling out in the box with the Gamecocks sporting a shaky passing game. Even after adjusting for sacks, South Carolina managed just 3.3 yards per carry.

*Both teams still have work to do to reach a bowl game. South Carolina finishes at home against Auburn and Clemson. The Gamecocks will be underdogs in both games, but both appear at least somewhat winnable. Missouri probably needs to get its sixth win on Saturday against reeling Florida, as the Tigers’ finale is a tough test on Black Friday at Arkansas.

(15) Ole Miss 29, (11) Texas A&M 19
It was over when: A.J. Finley intercepted Zach Calzada and ran it back 52 yards for a touchdown to give Ole Miss a 16-point lead with five minutes remaining, capping a stellar night for a Rebels defense that has gone from awful in 2020 to good in 2021.

*Texas A&M’s offense has been clunky a lot this season, but the Aggies had started to find their form in the past few weeks on that side of the ball. That changed in Oxford, as D.J. Durkin’s Rebels defense continued an impressive season by stuffing the Aggies in the first half, allowing just 91 yards and scoring two points on a safety. Ole Miss left the door open however, as, despite 408 yards, it managed just a touchdown and two field goals on offense after repeated red-zone failures, and the lead stood at just 15-0.

*Credit to Jimbo Fisher and Mike Elko for Texas A&M’s second-half adjustments, as both sides of the ball began to figure some things out. Fisher used the short passing game to get the offense going, while Elko’s defense made stopping Jerrion Ealy its top priority. The Rebels managed just 96 yards of offense in the second half. It sparked a 13-0 run to cut the Ole Miss lead to two, but two huge mistakes from Calzada late in the game doomed hopes of a comeback win.

*Snoop Conner finally gave Ole Miss second-half points with a 13-yard touchdown run with seven minutes remaining to give the Rebels an all-important nine-point lead at 22-13. The score came two plays after Ashanti Cistrunk had intercepted Zach Calzada to set Ole Miss up in the red zone, and the Rebels finally capitalized after a night of struggles inside the 20-yard line. Conner finished with 55 yards, but it was Ealy who did most of the work, amassing 152 yards on 24 carries.

*Corral had a chance to vault himself back into Heisman Trophy contention, but he was pedestrian for a third straight game, finishing 24-of-37 for 247 yards and a touchdown. He was by no means bad, but the Rebels left a lot of points on the table. New York remains a possibility, but Corral becoming the first Ole Miss player to hoist the famous trophy is a distant longshot at this point.

Kentucky 34, Vanderbilt 17
It was over when: Safety Jalen Geiger joined the Kentucky scoring party after a pair of Will Levis touchdown passes with a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown to give Kentucky a commanding 21-3 lead over the host Commodores early in the second quarter.

*Kentucky used balance to build a 31-3 halftime lead. Levis had 14 first-half pass attempts on 15 dropbacks, with the Wildcats running the ball 13 times for 131 yards in the first 30 minutes. Everything was working, nor surprisingly against a Vanderbilt team now on a 19-game SEC losing streak. It was a second consecutive field day for the offense, with a third one likely to come next week against 1-9 New Mexico State.

*Vanderbilt quarterback Ken Seals returned to action for the first time in a month. The pick-six by Geiger was a major mistake, and the Commodores could get little going downfield with pass protection a major issue. Wright entered the game after halftime, and the Commodores responded with touchdown drives of 72 and 75 yards, both capped by Wright touchdown passes, to prevent the game from becoming completely embarrassing.

(25) Arkansas 16, LSU 13 (OT)
It was over when: Cameron Little drilled a 37-yard field goal in the bottom half of the first overtime to give Arkansas its first win over LSU since 2015. In the top half of overtime, Montaric Brown intercepted Garrett Nussmeier one play two players after Nussmeier converted a 3rd-and-20 with a laser on a 24-yard completion.

*It was very much a rockfight, as the two teams combined for just 567 yards and 26 points in regulation. Both teams were miserable on third down, with LSU’s 6-of-18 besting Arkansas’ 3-of-15.

*Max Johnson started for the Tigers, but Nussmeier played most of the game in his first action of significance at LSU. He finished 18-of-31 for 179 yards and a touchdown, but the pair of interceptions were costly. There’s little benefit to going back to Johnson at this point, so expect Nussmeier to make his first start next Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe.

*Both touchdowns came on long plays, as Nussmeier found emerging tight end Jack Bech from 29 yards out to give LSU a 10-3 second-quarter lead. Arkansas tied the game in the third quarter when K.J. Jefferson escaped a sack and found a wide open Dominique Johnson down the sideline for a 43-yard score.

*LSU will need to defeat Louisiana-Monroe, Texas A&M and a bowl opponent, should it go to one, to avoid its first losing season since 1999.

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

National Thoughts
ACC: No. 12 Wake Forest (9-1, 6-0) took control of the ACC Atlantic with another wild game against a Triangle school, outlasting N.C. State (7-3, 4-2), 45-42. The four-hour game featured 106 pass attempts, with the Wolfpack’s Devin Leary amassing 408 yards and four touchdowns in defeat. The Deacons can clinch the division title with a win next week at Clemson or in two weeks at Boston College…Pittsburgh (8-2, 5-1) needed some divine intervention on Thursday night, outlasting North Carolina (5-5, 3-4) in overtime after rain turned into a downpour on the Tar Heels’ possession in extra time…Virginia (6-4, 4-2) held out injured quarterback Brennan Armstrong against No. 9 Notre Dame (9-1), and the Irish rolled in Charlottesville, 28-3. The Cavaliers face Pittsburgh next week in the Steel City for first place in the ACC Coastal…Florida State (4-6, 3-4) blew a big lead to Miami (FL) (5-5, 3-3), but the Seminoles rallied for the winning touchdown in the final minute after converting a 4th and 14 to snap a four-game losing streak in the series…Boston College (6-4, 2-4) wrapped a bowl bit with a 41-30 win at Georgia Tech (3-7, 2-6). Eagles quarterback Phil Jurkovec produced all five touchdowns, three with his legs and two with his arm…Louisville (5-5, 3-4) retired Lamar Jackson’s number on Saturday, and the Cardinals delivered for the greatest player in program history with a 41-3 rout of Louisville (5-5, 2-4)

Big 12: No. 13 Baylor (8-2, 5-2) scored 24 consecutive points and shut down No. 8 Oklahoma (9-1, 6-1), 27-14. The Sooners benched Caleb Williams in the second half for Spencer Rattler (before Williams re-entered), but the Bears had every answer for the Oklahoma offense…Iowa State (6-4, 4-3) bowed out of realistic Big 12 Championship Game contention after Texas Tech’s Jonathan Garibay drilled a 62-yard field goal as time expired to give the Red Raiders (6-4, 3-4) a bowl trip and a statement win after blowing a 17-point halftime lead…In hilarious news, Kansas (2-8, 1-6) snapped a 13-year losing streak in Big 12 road games with a wild 57-56 overtime win at Texas (4-6, 2-5), finished off with a two-point conversion. The Longhorns have lost five straight games…Kansas State (7-3, 4-3) won for the fourth straight week, outlasting West Virginia (4-6, 2-5), 34-17…No. 10 Oklahoma State (9-1, 6-1) kept CFP hopes alive with a 63-17 destruction of TCU (4-6, 2-5). The Cowboys gashed the Horned Frogs on the ground to the tune of 451 yards and eight rushing touchdowns.

Big Ten: No. 4 Ohio State (9-1, 6-1) gave Purdue (6-4, 4-3) no hope of yet another upset of a top-five team, jumping on the Boilermakers early and often in an impressive 59-31 rout in Columbus…No. 6 Michigan (9-1, 6-1) used a late touchdown pass from Cade McNamara to Erick All with four minutes to play to rally past Penn State (6-4, 3-4), 21-17, in State College…No. 7 Michigan State (9-1, 6-1) bounced back with a 40-21 thumping of Maryland (5-5, 2-5)…Iowa (8-2, 5-2) claimed the Floyd of Rosedale trophy for the seventh straight time, standing tall on defense late in 27-22 win over rival Minnesota (6-4, 4-3)…No. 18 Wisconsin (7-3, 5-2) remained in control of the Big Ten West with a 35-7 win over Northwestern (3-7, 1-6).

Pac-12: No. 3 Oregon (9-1, 6-1) did its usual, losing a 14-0 lead before controlling the second half in a 38-24 victory over Washington State (5-5, 4-3) in Eugene…No. 24 Utah (7-3, 6-1) inched closer to a third Pac-12 South title in four years, holding on late for a 38-29 win over Arizona (1-9, 1-6)…The Utes could have clinched it on Saturday, but Arizona State (7-3, 5-2) scored 21 straight points to spark a rally past Washington (4-6, 3-4) in Seattle…Oregon State (6-4, 4-3) wrapped up its first bowl bid since 2013 with a 35-14 pummeling of reeling Stanford (3-7, 2-6).

Group of Five: No. 5 Cincinnati (10-0, 6-0) had some challenges for a fourth straight week on Friday night before pulling away from USF (2-8, 1-5), 45-28...Likewise, No. 23 UTSA (10-0, 6-0) spotted 1-8 Southern Miss a 10-3 lead, but the Roadrunners settled down in the second half to survive, 27-17…UTSA will race UAB next week for first place in the Conference USA West, after the Blazers (7-3, 5-1) were 21-14 victors at Marshall (6-4, 4-2)…Utah State (8-2, 5-1) stayed atop the Mountain West Mountain division after hammering San Jose State (5-6, 3-4), 48-17…No. 22 San Diego State (9-1, 5-1) took control of the West side of the Mountain West, holding off Nevada (7-3, 4-2), 23-21…Houston (9-1, 6-0) wrapped up an AAC Championship Game berth in Philadelphia, defeating Temple (3-7, 1-5), 37-8. The Cougars will face Cincinnati barring two Bearcats losses in the final two weeks.

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

A Peek at Next Week
Early Afternoon:
Screen 1: No. 7 Michigan State at No. 5 Ohio State, Noon ET (ABC)
Screen 2: No. 13 Wake Forest at Clemson, Noon ET (ESPN)
Screen 3: Iowa State at No. 12 Oklahoma, Noon ET (FOX)

Late Afternoon:
Screen 1: Virginia at No. 20 Pittsburgh, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Screen 2: No. 21 Arkansas at No. 2 Alabama, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Screen 3: SMU at No. 3 Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Primetime:
Screen 1: No. 4 Oregon at No. 24 Utah, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Screen 2: No. 9 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
Screen 3: No. 11 Baylor at Kansas State, 5:30 p.m. ET (FS1)

After Dark:
Screen 1: Arizona State at Oregon State, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Screen 2: Louisiana-Monroe at LSU, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Screen 3: New Mexico at Boise State, 9 p.m. ET (FS1)

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.