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Week Nine SEC Recap

By Matt Smith
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Matt Smith recaps week nine in the SEC.

October is over – a month that has whittled the field into contenders and pretenders. After Saturday’s four-game slate wrapped up, the SEC sits with four viable candidates for the SEC title – those that control their own fate or need just a single piece of help in addition to get to Atlanta on December’s first Saturday.

Two of those four were idle on Saturday, but two more delivered high-quality performances in critical games. Georgia locked up the SEC East title with its win over Florida and Kentucky’s loss to Mississippi State, while Auburn did what Auburn does at Jordan-Hare Stadium – crush dreams of a title contender.

It was a light week as the league’s cycle of late October off-weeks winds down, but it was an impactful one. Let’s review Week 9 in the SEC.

Game Thoughts and Takeaways
Missouri 37, Vanderbilt 28
It was over when: Tyler Badie broke off a 73-yard run to clinch the first SEC win of the season Missouri (4-4, 1-3) for Missouri after Vanderbilt (2-7, 0-5) had cut the Tigers’ lead to two with three minutes to play. Backup quarterback Tyler Macon scored on the next play to make the final margin nine.

*It was a day for the ground games, as Badie produced 254 of Missouri’s 276 rushing yards, scoring twice. The Commodores continued Missouri’s defensive misery against the run with 258 yards, spurred by mobile quarterback Mike Wright going for 152.

*Vanderbilt’s offense started hot, averaging eight yards per play over the first four drives, which resulted in a pair of touchdowns. The Tigers defense did find some footing in the game’s middle stages, forcing four straight empty possessions to help Missouri turn a 14-10 deficit into a 24-14 lead, aided by a Hail Mary on the final play of the first half from Connor Bazelak to Keke Chism.

*Bazelak was efficient, finishing 22-of-228 for 218 yards, with a touchdown on the Hail Mary and one interception. He left the game late with a lower-body injury, but walked off under his own power. Missouri plays Georgia next week. Perhaps Bazelak would be wise to milk the injury for another week. He’s a football player, however, so he won’t.

(1) Georgia 34, Florida 7
It was over when: The Bulldogs (8-0, 6-0) turned three turnovers into 21 points in a 130-second stretch just before halftime to break open a 3-0 defensive struggle. Quarterback Anthony Richardson was responsible for all three turnovers for the Gators (4-4, 2-4), as a fumble was followed by an interception on a deflected pass and a pick-six by Georgia’s Nakobe Dean.

*It’s hard to offer much profound analysis on the Georgia defense. They’re big. They’re fast. They’re nasty. Through six SEC games, Bulldogs opponents have managed just 43 points. The 4.9 yards per play allowed was the most this season, but Saturday in Jacksonville was about the splash plays – Nolan Smith’s strip and recovery, Kelee Ringo’s interception off a deflection, and Dean’s walk-in interception return. Richardson was overwhelmed in his first career start, ultimately leaving the game with an injury in the third quarter.

*Georgia didn’t do a heck of a lot on offense, mostly because it didn’t have to. The first 25 minutes were a slog, as the Bulldogs managed just 158 yards and three points. The game turned with the takeaways, and Georgia’s offense needed only one play after each of the first two to find the end zone on a James Cook run and a Stetson Bennett IV pass to Kearis Jackson, who made a lovely over-the-shoulder catch. Zamir White broke off a 42-yard run to finish the scoring.

*Bennett was OK, but he did throw two ugly interceptions. His final stat line was 10-of-19 for 161 yards, the touchdown to Jackson, and the two giveaways. J.T. Daniels is either healthy enough to play or will be shortly, so with Florida behind them and a cushy November slate ahead, the question for Kirby Smart now becomes does Daniels or Bennett give the Bulldogs the best chance to beat Alabama? We all have opinions, but there’s only one opinion that matters, and the head coach has been hesitant to tip his hand. With each passing week, it seems more and more likely that this is Bennett’s team for the duration.

*At 4-4, Florida’s season is officially a lost cause, but the Gators defense held its own on Saturday, a much improved effort from the disastrous performance two weeks ago at LSU. The schedule eases up dramatically now until the rivalry game with Florida State, so there’s a good chance this team can stack some wins and perhaps end on a five-game winning streak. Changes are coming, but Dan Mullen isn’t going anywhere.

*Thanks to 17 meaningless yards in the final two minutes, Florida finished with more total yards than Georgia, 355-354.

(18) Auburn 31, (10) Ole Miss 20
It was over when: Matt Corral’s errant cross-body throw with nine minutes to go was intercepted in the end zone by Auburn’s Jaylin Simpson, preserving a 31-20 Tigers lead. Auburn (6-2, 3-1) won for the sixth straight time over Ole Miss (6-2, 3-2).

*A month after nearly losing his job, Auburn’s Bo Nix is now playing as well as any quarterback in the SEC. The junior led the way with 306 yards of total offense and three total touchdowns, as the Tigers led for the final 55 minutes after Nix’s 11-yard rushing touchdown on the opening drive. Auburn has a dangerous offense that is running efficiently, stretching the field and making something out of nothing. That’s a great place to be heading into November as the Tigers make the turn in their SEC schedule with SEC West title hopes in their hands.

*Corral was again a warrior, leaving the game after an ankle injury but returning after missing only parts of two series. He wasn’t his usual self, however, failing to complete 60 percent of his passes and throw a touchdown. Playing from behind all night was a precarious position, but Corral had chances to put Ole Miss in position to win, but his normal pinpoint accuracy just wasn’t there on Saturday night. Blame the injury, blame the defense, blame whatever you want, but Corral was out of rhythm all evening, and, despite plenty of goals left to achieve, Ole Miss’ SEC West title chances are mostly gone.

*The resurrection of Nix was a precedent for the resurrection of Tank Bigsby. After Jarquez Hunter finished off Auburn’s landmark win at LSU, Bigsby’s role as the top running back was in question. Since then, Bigsby has scored in all three games and led the way against Ole Miss with 23 carries for a season-high 140 yards. The Tigers need all components of their offense to be clicking in November, and all signs from Saturday night point to that happening.

*Is Lane Kiffin going to make the kicking game popular again? The Rebels went for it four times on fourth down, converting just once. All three misses came in very makeable field goal range, and two were when a field goal could have pulled Ole Miss within eight. Kiffin, if nothing else, is consistent. The Rebels were losing to Alabama regardless of his fourth-down decisions, but this game felt more winnable with some more delicate game management.

*Auburn magic was on display early, as the Tigers benefitted from a missed block in the black on a key third-down scramble by Nix, as well as drawing a pass interference penalty on a third-down throw in the red zone that did not look catchable. Both drives ended in Auburn touchdowns. The calls didn’t decide the game, but the Tigers seem to have had a rabbit’s foot the past couple seasons, and it was on display again on Saturday night.

Mississippi State 31, (12) Kentucky 17
It was over when: Kentucky (6-2, 4-2) turned the ball over on consecutive third-quarter snaps, with both miscues being followed by three-play Mississippi State (5-3, 3-2) touchdown drives to extend a one-score game to a 31-10 Bulldogs lead.

*Turnovers have been an issue all season for the Wildcats, but inferior opponents such as Missouri and South Carolina were unable to make Kentucky pay. Four of Big Blue’s first seven drives ended with a giveaway, wasting a 10-0 lead and allowing 31 consecutive before finally calming the tide late in the third quarter with a Will Levis touchdown pass to DeMarcus Harris. Success comes in slim margins for a program like Kentucky, which means victory and a 14-point loss are just a few plays apart.

*After not scoring a point on offense in last year’s meeting, Mississippi State flipped the script on Saturday night with a brilliant performance from quarterback Will Rogers. The Bulldogs signal-caller completed 36 of 39 passes for 344 yards, his most efficient performance of the season and an SEC single-game record for completion percentage. Most importantly, Mississippi State did not turn the ball over and had just a single three-and-out. Athletic defenses like LSU and Alabama have handled the Bulldogs attack this season, but unlike 2020, basic fundamentals and a good scheme haven’t been the ticket to solving it. Credit to Mike Leach and the staff for this offense’s maturity in year over year meetings with the Wildcats.

*Leach was apparently annoyed with Kentucky trying to call out Mississippi State’s cadence, possibly contributing to six false start penalties. It’s an illegal, but not uncommon, practice. Mark Stoops denied that his team was doing it, but he was most likely saying his team did not get penalized for doing that. All is fair in love and SEC football.

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

National Thoughts
ACC: No. 13 Wake Forest (8-0, 5-0) stayed perfect with a 45-7 rout of Duke (3-5, 0-4)…Miami (FL) (4-4, 2-2) upset No. 17 Pittsburgh (6-2, 3-1), 38-34, despite Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett throwing for 519 yards….Clemson (5-3, 4-2) rallied past Florida State (3-5, 2-3), 30-20, to keep faint division title hopes alive, in addition to delivering its point spread backers with a miracle cover on a fumble return touchdown on the lateral-filled last play of the game…North Carolina (4-4, 3-3) missed on its first of two chances for a season-saving statement win, amassing 564 yards at Notre Dame but falling to the No. 11 Irish (7-1), 44-34…Syracuse (5-4, 2-3) moved within one win of bowl eligibility, holding Boston College (4-4, 0-4) out of the end zone in a 21-6 home win…Virginia (6-3, 4-2) and No. 25 BYU (7-2) put up 115 points late at night in Provo, as the Cougars defense held the Cavaliers to just seven second-half points in a 66-49 win. Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong injured his ribs late in the game. The Wahoos are off this coming week before hosting Notre Dame and visiting Pittsburgh for a likely winner-take-all game in the ACC Coastal.

Big 12: No. 4 Oklahoma (9-0, 6-0) delivered its most complete performance of the season in a 52-21 mauling of Texas Tech (5-4, 2-4). Caleb Williams threw for 402 yards and six touchdowns, capping a tumultuous week for the Red Raiders…West Virginia (4-4, 2-3) upset No. 22 Iowa State (5-3, 3-2), 38-31, in a fun game in Morgantown, forcing the Cyclones to likely have to win out to return to the Big 12 Championship Game…Texas (4-4, 2-3) dropped its third straight conference game, letting another two-score lead melt away in a 31-24 loss at No. 16 Baylor (7-1, 4-1)…Deuce Vaughn ran for 109 yards and two touchdowns, as Kansas State (5-3, 2-3) delivered another blow to slumping TCU (3-5, 1-4).

Big Ten: The game of the day took place in East Lansing, as Kenneth Walker ran for five touchdowns to lead No. 8 Michigan State (8-0, 5-0) past No. 6 Michigan (7-1, 4-1), 37-33. The Spartans trailed, 30-14, but scored a pair of touchdowns with two-point conversions to tie the game before Walker turned a critical Michigan fumble into the game-winning touchdown. Jim Harbaugh fell to 3-4 in seven meetings with the Spartans…No. 5 Ohio State (7-1, 5-0) struggled to put away No. 20 Penn State (5-3, 2-3), but ultimately disposed of the Nittany Lions, 33-24. The Buckeyes held Penn State to just 33 yards rushing...Wisconsin (5-3, 3-2) rolled over No. 9 Iowa (6-2, 3-2), rendering the Hawkeyes struggling offense impotent in a 27-7 win in Madison…Purdue (5-3, 3-2) handed Nebraska (3-6, 1-5) an eighth straight one-score defeat with a 28-23 win at Lincoln. A loss to Ohio State next week would ensure the Cornhuskers finish with a losing record for the sixth time in seven seasons. 1995, it is not.

Pac-12: No. 7 Oregon (7-1, 4-1) jumped on hapless Colorado early and never looked back in a 52-29 win in Eugene…Utah (5-3, 4-1) seized control of the Pac-12 South with a 44-24 win over UCLA (5-4, 3-3) in Salt Lake City…Washington State (5-4, 4-2) shocked Arizona State (5-3, 3-2) in Tempe, 34-21…Arizona’s losing streak reached 20 after a 41-34 Wildcats (0-8, 0-5) loss at USC (4-4, 3-3)…Washington (4-4, 3-2) set up a key rivalry game with Oregon next week in Seattle with a late-night rally past Stanford (3-5, 2-4) in Palo Alto, 20-13…California (3-5, 2-3) kept bowl hopes alive with a 39-25 upset of Oregon State (5-3, 3-2).

Group of Five: No. 2 Cincinnati (8-0, 4-0) struggled with Tulane (1-7, 0-4) early, but again played a dominant second half in its 31-12 win in New Orleans…Houston (7-1, 5-0) moved closer to an AAC Championship Game berth with a wild 44-37 win over No. 19 SMU (7-1, 3-1), returning a kickoff for a touchdown in the final minute for the game-winning score…Fresno State (7-2, 4-1) ended the perfect season of No. 20 San Diego State (7-1, 3-1), leading from start to finish in a 30-20 road win….Bowling Green (3-6, 1-4) won its first MAC game since 2019 in a 56-44 win at Buffalo (4-5, 2-3) that featured 49 fourth-quarter points. It was the only MAC game on Saturday, as mid-week #MACtion starts on Tuesday.

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

A Peek at Next Week
Early Afternoon:
Screen 1: No. 6 Ohio State at Nebraska, Noon ET (FOX)
Screen 2: No. 10 Wake Forest at North Carolina, Noon ET (ABC)
Screen 3: Liberty at No. 15 Ole Miss, Noon ET (SECN)

Late Afternoon:
Screen 1: No. 12 Auburn at No. 13 Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Screen 2: Mississippi State at Arkansas, 4 p.m. ET (SECN)
Screen 3: No. 5 Michigan State at Purdue, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

Screen 1: No. 7 Oregon at Washington, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Screen 2: Texas at Iowa State, 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1)
Screen 3: LSU at No. 3 Alabama, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

After Dark:
Screen 1: USC at Arizona State, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Screen 2: No. 16 UTSA at UTEP, 10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Screen 3: San Diego State at Hawaii, 11 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.