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Week Four SEC Recap

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith looks back at all the SEC action from over the weekend.

Scores

(9) Florida 34, Tennessee 3
(2) Alabama 49, Southern Miss 7
(23) California 28, Ole Miss 20
(4) LSU 66, Vanderbilt 38
(8) Auburn 28, (17) Texas A&M 20
Mississippi State 28, Kentucky 13
Missouri 34, South Carolina 14
San Jose State 31, Arkansas 24
(3) Georgia 23, (7) Notre Dame 17

The Big Story

It was a southern spectacle on Saturday night for the first-ever meeting of Notre Dame and Georgia between the hedges of Sanford’s Stadium. The 23-17 Bulldogs win was a slugfest, as both offenses struggled to find their footing. Ultimately, Georgia put the game on Jake Fromm’s right arm in the second half, and the junior quarterback was nearly flawless, finishing 20-of-26 for 187 yards and a gorgeous fourth-quarter, third-down touchdown pass to Lawrence Cager to put Georgia ahead by two scores.

Notre Dame was a formidable opponent, and kept the Bulldogs from breaking big plays in their screen game. The hesitation to let Fromm throw downfield early in the game was somewhat puzzling, but once offensive coordinator James Coley did, Fromm was brilliant. Defensively, Georgia didn’t allow the Fighting Irish to do anything on the ground, as tight end Cole Kmet was the only player the ‘Dawgs couldn’t find an answer for. Six false start penalties also squelched many Notre Dame drives.

Going forward, questioning Kirby Smart’s late-game decision-making is fair. Settling for a field goal attempt on 4th and 1 with a 20-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter was curious, when a first down likely would have buried the Irish. Instead, Georgia was back on its heels late before Notre Dame’s potential game-winning drive stalled at the ‘Dawgs 40-yard line after cutting the lead to six on its previous possession. When it’s all on the line against Alabama (or LSU) in December, can Smart push the right buttons? Skepticism abounds. 

Top Takeaways

-Bo Nix finished with only 100 passing yards, but the true freshman played mistake-free football in Auburn’s 28-20 road win at Texas A&M. The Tigers didn’t even manage 300 yards for the game, but Gus Malzahn’s team continues to run a low-risk offense and let the defense carry the weight. They did that again on Saturday, holding the Aggies to just 2.7 yards per carry and sacking Kellen Mond three times.

-Texas A&M now sits at 2-2 as it heads to Arlington for its annual neutral-site game with Arkansas. Alabama is after that, and the season ends with trips to Georgia and LSU. 2020 was always going to be the targeted breakthrough year for the Aggies, but Jimbo Fisher isn’t getting paid $75 million to turn out 7-5 seasons. That’s probably the best-case scenario right now at the season’s one-third pole.

-I didn’t expect to be writing much about Arkansas this week, as the Hogs had a seemingly routine win on the schedule against San Jose State, which has bar none been the worst team in the Mountain West over the past three years. Instead, the Spartans not only flew home from Fayetteville with a $1.5 million check, but also a 31-24 win over an SEC team. The Razorbacks turned the ball over five times and allowed a ridiculous 503 yards, 402 of them coming through the air.

Chad Morris will be the Arkansas head coach in 2020, but it’s fair to wonder now if he will be beyond that. He’s 4-12 through 16 games, and now has lost three games to Group of Five teams. It’s a tough job, which is why even going 0-16 in SEC play shouldn’t be enough to pull the plug after two years, but there are still high expectations for the Razorbacks, albeit unrealistic at times. After 16 games, it will be hard for Morris to continue to sell hope on the recruiting trail. As Bill Parcells said, you are what your record you says you are, and 4-12 is never going to be good enough.

Quick Hitters

-Nice bounceback win for Mississippi State, who comfortably handled an equally angry Kentucky team, 28-13. With Auburn, LSU, and Texas A&M three of the next four opponents, the now 3-1 Bulldogs couldn’t afford a second straight home loss to a group of Wildcats after falling to Kansas State a week ago. True freshman quarterback Garrett Shrader was terrific, accounting for more than 300 yards between his arm and his legs, and running back Kylin Hill continues to be one of the most pleasant surprises in the SEC.

-Missouri’s run defense might be the most improved unit in the SEC from Week 1. South Carolina managed just 24 yards on the ground in the Tigers’ 34-14 win in Columbia, helping Missouri possess the ball for almost 16 minutes longer than the Gamecocks. The Tigers may not be truly tested again until November, but this was a game that, if a legitimate Top 25 team, they needed to win going away. They did just that, and now comes a week off before as cushy of an October as an SEC team can have with Troy, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

-Joe Burrow broke the LSU school record with six touchdown passes in the Tigers’ 66-38 thrashing of Vanderbilt. Was the story Burrow’s record-breaking day? Or was it LSU’s defense again not looking sharp? I’ll say it’s the former. LSU isn’t beating Alabama with its defense. It is going to need Burrow to outduel Tua Tagovailoa and the unstoppable Crimson Tide passing game.

-Wild game in Oxford, as Ole Miss was denied a touchdown that could have sent its game with California to overtime by a goal-line stand from the Golden Bears. The Rebels were inches from scoring on third down on a pass to Elijah Moore, but the play was not reviewed. With the clock winding down, Ole Miss had to quickly try a quarterback sneak on the game’s final play, but backup John Rhys Plumlee, filling in for an injured Matt Corrall, was turned away by Cal’s Evan Weaver to keep the Bears perfect on the season. It was a second one-score loss this season for Ole Miss, but California is an upper-tier Pac-12 team, and Ole Miss looked like its equal, outgaining the Bears, 525-433. The Rebels play Missouri and Texas A&M in back-to-back weeks in mid-October. They’ll be underdogs, but those two games are winnable, and stealing a win there could negate Saturday’s missed opportunity.

-Not much to report on Alabama. Tua Tagovailoa had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four), as the Crimson Tide rolled past Southern Miss, 49-7. The running game was better, finishing with 176 yards, but 200 yards should be the minimum against a team like the Golden Eagles. Alabama’s next four opponents have all suffered multiple losses already this season. There’s not much to get excited about with the Tide until November.

-It’s just never going to happen for Jarrett Guarantano at Tennessee, as the junior quarterback was pulled from the Vols’ 34-3 loss at Florida after going just 8-of-15 for 73 yards with two interceptions (one on a tipped pass) in the first half. He missed a wide-open Dominick Wood-Anderson on what likely would have been a long touchdown, and the interception that was his fault was a miserable throw. He returned to the game for the final three series after freshman Brian Maurer was equally ineffective, but going forward, it’s probably time to pull the plug, even with mighty Georgia coming to Knoxville after an idle week.

-As for Florida, Kyle Trask was solid in his first career start. He had two interceptions, but he was sharp early and always appeared in command of the offense. He’ll get another easy game next week against Towson before Auburn comes to town. There wasn’t expected to be much of a drop-off after Feleipe Franks’ injury last week, and, despite plenty of room for improvement, that appears to have been an accurate assumption after Trask’s first full game.

Around The Nation

-It was a wild weekend in the Pac-12, as UCLA, USC and Colorado cut the number of unbeaten teams in the conference from four to one with upset wins. The Trojans’ 30-23 win over tenth-ranked Utah was the most entertaining game from start to finish, but the 0-3 Bruins erasing a 49-17 deficit and overcoming nine touchdown passes from Washington State’s Alex Gordon in a 67-63 win was the biggest stunner. Arizona State also fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, as a weary Colorado team, coming off back-to-back overtime games, bent but never broke in a 34-31 win in Tempe. Arizona State had four game-tying scores, but the Sun Devils never led, finally falling on a 44-yard Buffaloes field goal with two minutes to play. The Pac-12 is far from great, but it’s the most exciting conference on a weekly basis.

-The most notable ACC results came in non-conference games. Pitt handed UCF its first regular-season loss since 2016 on a game-winning, fourth-down, gadget-play touchdown in the final minute. North Carolina fell for the second straight week, as giant killer Appalachian State came into Chapel Hill and knocked off the Tar Heels, 34-31. Virginia got caught looking ahead to next week’s trip to Notre Dame, falling behind Old Dominion 17-0, but the Cavaliers scored the game’s final 28 points to improve to 4-0.

-It was a fairly quiet day in the Big Ten, but No. 11 Michigan showed once again just how far away they are from being a playoff contender in a 35-14 pasting by No. 13 Wisconsin. The Badgers opened a 35-0 lead before a couple meaningless Wolverines touchdowns. Michigan’s first seven drives ended as follows: fumble, punt, punt, interception, punt, halftime, punt. Wisconsin held the ball for 41 minutes. So much for the new offense under coordinator Josh Gattis. It’s not all his fault, as quarterback Shea Patterson continues to struggle with pressure in the pocket, but Michigan has no answers right now on offense.

-Another fun game in Austin, as Texas stayed a step ahead of Oklahoma State for most of the night in a 36-30 Longhorns win that saw the home team outgain the visiting Cowboys by just four yards, 498-494. Devin Duvernay caught 12 of Sam Ehlinger’s 20 completions. Recent Texas teams would have found a way to lose this game, so this win should not simply be brushed aside. Texas and Notre Dame have the two most respectable losses right now in the country, but the Longhorns have the luxury of a conference title to contend for. Beating a good Oklahoma State team at home for the first time since 2008 was a big step towards that goal. A week off and a trip to West Virginia lie between Texas and the showdown with Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl.

-Other teams to catch my eye in Week 3, in a good way: Buffalo, Michigan State, SMU

-Other teams to catch my eye in Week 3, in a bad way: Bowling Green, Houston, Wyoming

Resume Rankings

1. Auburn
2. LSU
3. Clemson
4. Georgia
5. Alabama
6. Ohio State
7. California
8. Wisconsin
9. Florida
10. Mississippi State
11. Texas
12. Washington
13. Boise State
14. Wake Forest
15. Iowa
16. Oregon
17. Virginia
18. USC
19. Oklahoma
20. Kansas State
21. Oklahoma State
22. Appalachian State
23. Michigan State
24. Penn State
25. Utah

The 5 Week 5 SEC Games I'm Most Interested In

1. Mississippi State at No. 7 Auburn (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
2. Kentucky at South Carolina (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
3. Ole Miss at No. 2 Alabama (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
4. No. 23 Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (Arlington) (Noon ET, ESPN)
5. Northern Illinois at Vanderbilt (Noon ET, SEC Network)

The 5 Week 5 National Games I'm Most Interested In

1. No. 18 Virginia at No. 10 Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
2. No. 21 USC at No. 17 Washington (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
3. No. 5 Ohio State at Nebraska (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
4. Washington State at No. 19 Utah (10 p.m. ET, FS1)
5. Iowa State at Baylor (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

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.