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Week Ten SEC Recap

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

November in the SEC started out with a…not a bang, not a whimper, maybe an alarm? Saturday was an interesting day, as competitive games turned into blowouts, blowouts turned into competitive games, and one head coach may have sealed his fate.

From a touchdown on the second play of the first game to a head coach penalty at the conclusion of the night’s final game, it was a busy day with plot twists all over the South, but not much clarity gained. At least for me there wasn’t, but judge for yourselves as we review Week 10 in the SEC.

Game Thoughts and Takeaways
Ole Miss 27, Liberty 14
It was over when: A.J. Finley’s second-quarter interception of Liberty quarterback Malik Willis deep in Ole Miss territory was quickly turned into seven points and a 24-0 lead on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Matt Corral to Dannis Jackson.

*My target for Corral’s workload on Saturday was 20-25 passes and a helmet-free fourth quarter. Corral was hobbled by an ankle injury suffered last week at Auburn, and next week’s all-important visit from Texas A&M will likely determine whether Ole Miss’ season is good or great. The Rebels let Liberty hang around, so Corral went the entire way, throwing 27 times for 324 yards. Ole Miss ran for 142 yards, a relatively uninspiring effort on a day when the ground game needed to control the game.

*Hugh Freeze’s return to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium went much like his last game there – a 55-20 loss to Mississippi State in the 2016 Egg Bowl. Nothing on Liberty’s resume suggested it would be able to make this a four-quarter game, but the one-sidedness right from the start when Jerrion Ealy went 75 yards for a touchdown on the game’s second play was a disappointment.

*Willis picked it up a bit in the second half with the game mostly out of hand, but his first-half line was 6-of-11 for 59 yards and a pair of interceptions. Liberty had a chance to cut the lead to one score and try an onsides kick in the final minutes, but Willis was intercepted for a third time to end the game. He had little help from his offensive line, as Ole Miss registered nine sacks.

*Allowing 284 yards on the ground looks concerning, but 181 of those Flames rushing yards came after halftime. It was not a recipe in closing a game, but Ole Miss just needed to get through this game without further injuries. The Rebels appear to have done that.

(1) Georgia 43, Missouri 6
It was over when: After a slow start, the Bulldogs (9-0, 7-0) scored 16 points in four minutes to take a 16-3 lead and full control of a sleepy game with an early kickoff in chilly Athens. A touchdown reception from Arian Smith and run from Zamir White sandwiched a blocked punt by Nolan Smith that trickled out of the end zone for two points.

*The quarterback mystery out of Columbia this week appeared to cause some early challenges for the mighty Georgia defense, as the insertion of mobile quarterback Tyler Macon along with running back Tyler Badie allowed the Tigers to move the ball in the first quarter. Running for 91 yards in the first was half was actually a decent accomplishment, but with no balance from the passing game, the Bulldogs quickly righted the ship and put the game out of reach.

*The deep passing game was working early, as Stetson Bennett IV got Georgia on the board with a lovely 35-yard touchdown pass to Arian Smith, one of three completions of 30 yards or longer in the first half. If J.T. Daniels is to regain his starting role, time is running out. I still prefer Daniels when December rolls around, but Kirby Smart may feel differently. If Bennett starts and plays well at Tennessee next week, it’ll be safe to say a switch is not happening.

*Daniels entered the game on the second drive of the third quarter with the Bulldogs holding a 33-3 lead. He threw a short touchdown pass, but also had an interception on a deflected pass after a late throw. If that was a pop quiz, Daniels certainly didn’t ace it.

(14) Texas A&M 20, (13) Auburn 3
It was over when: Auburn quarterback Bo Nix dropped the football for a second straight play, with this one being far more damaging when Texas A&M’s Michael Clemons scooped up the loose football and ran it back 24 yards for an Aggies touchdown and a 17-3 fourth-quarter lead.

*Saturday was an absolute gem from Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko, as Auburn failed to reach 200 yards until midway through the fourth quarter. Tank Bigsby was held to just 69 yards, and Nix was sacked four times while barely completing 50 percent of his passes. Perhaps the most stunning stat was that no Auburn play all afternoon went for more than 50 yards.

*Zach Calzada struggled for much of the day against the Auburn defense, but he fought threw a dislocated shoulder to return to the game and provide the toughness that carried the Aggies all afternoon. He threw for just 192 yards, but the ask of him on Saturday with the defense dominating was simply management, and he did just that with a turnover-free performance.

*Auburn had a chance to grab a second-half lead midway through the third quarter, but Anders Carlson missed a 33-yard field goal attempt. It was all Texas A&M after that crucial gaffe. The Aggies ran for more than 200 yards, with Isaiah Spiller going for 112 and Devin Achane just behind him with 98. Credit to the Texas A&M offensive line for controlling the trenches in the second half after not getting much done in the first 30 minutes.

*Auburn can still win the SEC West if it wins out, but the Tigers will now need a Texas A&M loss either next week at Ole Miss or Nov. 27 at LSU. Auburn heads back home to play a red-hot Mississippi State team next week. The Aggies are SEC West champions with wins over Ole Miss and LSU and one Alabama loss.

Arkansas 31, (17) Mississippi State 28
It was over when: Dominique Johnson split the Mississippi State defensive front for a four-yard touchdown run followed by a two-point conversion with 21 seconds remaining to give Arkansas a 31-28 lead and cap a stellar 10-play, 75-yard game-winning touchdown drive. The Bulldogs had one last chance to force overtime, but Nolan McCord missed a 40-yard field goal attempt as time expired, sending Razorback Stadium into jubilation after the Hogs’ first home SEC win with a full stadium since 2016.

*Arkansas had a surprising amount of success against a very good Bulldogs run defense, going over 200 yards on Johnson’s late score. That ended Mississippi State’s 10-game streak of not allowing 200 or more rushing yards

*Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers couldn’t match his SEC-record performance of last Saturday, but 36-of-48 for 417 yards and four touchdowns against a feisty Arkansas defense was quite an encore, albeit in heartbreaking defeat. Rogers was masterful in setting up the late field goal attempt that would have tied the game. The Bulldogs needed three completions on three plays to have a chance, and Rogers delivered. Another tough test awaits next week at Auburn, but Rogers is playing as well as any quarterback in the SEC right now.

*Arkansas jumped to a 13-0 lead, but the Bulldogs won the “middle eight” minutes, scoring a pair of touchdowns sandwiched around halftime to take a 14-13 lead. Arkansas scored the next 10 points before Rogers led another pair of back-to-back touchdown drives to give Mississippi State a 28-23 lead. This series has delivered high entertainment value on an almost annual basis.

*K.J. Jefferson should also be commended for his performance in crunch time, as he connected on six of seven attempts on Arkansas’ final drive of the game, as well as a physical scramble to set up Johnson’s game-winning score. Stat lines always take second fiddle compared to Rogers, but 19-of-23 with no turnovers against a very good defense is exactly what the Razorbacks needed from their quarterback.

*Penalties were abundant in Fayetteville, including a crucial holding call on Mississippi State on a 4th-and-1 for Arkansas in the final minute. The Bulldogs finished with 10 penalties for 78 yards, while the Razorbacks matched them with 78 yards on 11 flagged plays.

Tennessee 45, (18) Kentucky 42
It was over when: Kentucky quarterback Will Levis misfired on four consecutive throws in the final minute, turning the ball over on downs and allowing Tennessee to escape Lexington with a wild win despite allowing 609 yards on 99 plays.

*Levis made a tragic mistake midway through the third quarter, as Tennessee cornerback Alontae Taylor jumped a pass and ran it back 56 yards for a touchdown and the first two-score lead of the night at 38-28. It was uphill after that for the Wildcats trying to fight their way back, and the Vols held the lead for the rest of the game.

*Tennessee ran just 50 plays and held the ball for less than 14 minutes. It was a remarkable statistical domination for Kentucky, but as the Vols are wont to do, they scored with big plays again and again. Tennessee had touchdowns of 75, 72, 37 and 18 yards, with only one of the six scoring drives encompassing more than four plays.

*Mark Stoops was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the game after the officials missed a Tennessee defender grabbing Levis’ face mask on a sack. The penalty forced a 4th and 24 for Kentucky, which the Wildcats miraculously converted to keep their drive alive. While the call didn’t determine the outcome, it was blatant overreach when the officials themselves made the initial mistake on the no-call.

*Hendon Hooker was outstanding for Tennessee, throwing just 21 times for 314 yards, but with four going for touchdowns, including the game-winning score on a beautiful pass on a corner route. He doesn’t make every throw, but his deep ball has come together very nicely, allowing this offense to operate near peak efficiency.

(2) Alabama 20, LSU 14
It was over when: Max Johnson’s final heave from 30 yards out was knocked down in the end zone, ending LSU’s hopes for the biggest upset of the college football season.

*LSU struck first, as the Tigers executed a beautiful fake punt on a jump pass by punter Avery Atkins for a 26-yard gain. LSU scored four players later on a short pass from Johnson to Brian Thomas Jr.

*The Tigers surprising lead held until deep into the second quarter when a short Brian Robinson touchdown run tied the game. A Jalyn Armour-Davis interception quickly turned into points when Young threw a lovely touchdown pass to John Metchie off of his back foot to give the Tide the lead just before halftime.

*Alabama added more points off of a turnover just after halftime when Jameson Williams burst behind the LSU secondary to haul in a 58-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Young, putting Alabama ahead 20-7. Two plays earlier, Henry To’o To’o forced a fumble by LSU running back Tyrion Davis-Price to give the Crimson Tide the ball.

*Alabama had no semblance of a running game, finishing with six rushing yards, and just 49 after adjusting for sacks. The offensive line did lose center Darrian Dalcourt to injury, but the struggles on the ground were nevertheless stunning. It’s easy to spin it forward to wondering how this offense would fare against Georgia, but there are more immediate concerns with Arkansas and Auburn still left to navigate.

*Johnson hung tough against a powerful Alabama pass rush, but his pocket presence continues to be a problem. He took too many hits, getting sacked five times. He wasn’t always protected well, but Johnson struggles to feel and react to pressure. Whoever is the next head coach at LSU will need to look at the transfer portal to add to the Tigers quarterback room for 2022.

*The missed extra point after Williams’ touchdown was the first by Alabama since 2019, when Joseph Bulovas missed one, also at home, and also against LSU.

South Carolina 40, Florida 17
It was over when: Emory Jones was stripped by Aaron Sterling just before halftime, and Jabari Ellis scooped up the loose ball and ran it back 18 yards for a South Carolina touchdown. The score capped off a magical first half for the Gamecocks, who took a 30-10 lead into halftime and never looked back.

*We’ll get to the state of affairs at Florida in a second, but first, full credit to South Carolina for taking advantage of an opportunity to overcome a significant talent gap and win a football game. The Gators were vulnerable, but with a third-string quarterback for South Carolina, it wasn’t certain that it would matter. The Gamecocks played their best game of the season, averaging nine yards per play in a dominant first half capped by the Sterling touchdown. Shane Beamer’s team has played hard for him all year, but results to this point were limited. Now, there’s a big win on the resume, and. at 5-4, a great chance to make a bowl game by beating one of three groups of Tigers – Missouri, Auburn or Clemson.

*St. Francis (PA) transfer Jason Brown made his first start under center for the Gamecocks. It couldn’t have gone much better, as a guy who was the No. 3 quarterback just three weeks ago took down the defending SEC East champions by going 14-of-24 for 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

*The Gamecocks mauled Florida at the line of scrimmage, as the Gators defense regressed into their form from the LSU loss in allowing 284 yards on 42 carries. Both Kevin Harris and Zaquandre White ran for more than 100 yards.

*Now, to Florida. Dan Mullen is in trouble. The 4-4 start was a major disappointment, but nothing in the season’s first two months even came close to the disaster of Saturday night in Columbia. His team doesn’t look like it’s fighting for him, and I’m not sure if he’s fighting for them either. Could Mullen really become the second straight Florida coach to be out a year after winning a division title? At 4-5, things may be beyond repair.

*Adding insult to injury, a flu bug made its way into the Florida locker room, leaving 20-30 players under the weather. When it rains, it pours.

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

National Thoughts
ACC: No. 9 Wake Forest (8-1, 5-0) saw its perfect season come to an end in a wild shootout at North Carolina (5-4, 3-3), 58-55. The Tar Heels used a 31-3 run to help erase a 45-27 Deacons lead, as the teams combined for 1,161 yards…Miami (FL) (5-4, 3-2) stayed alive in the ACC Coastal race with a sloppy 33-30 win over Georgia Tech (3-6, 2-5)…The Hurricanes are trying to chase down Pittsburgh (7-2, 4-1), which overcame some early struggles to run away from Duke (3-6, 0-5), 54-29, on the strength of 416 yards from quarterback Kenny Pickett…N.C. State (7-2, 4-1) set up an ACC Atlantic showdown next week at Wake Forest with a 28-14 win at Florida State (3-6, 2-4)…Clemson (6-3, 5-2) used a goal-line stand in the final minute to hold off Louisville (4-5, 2-4), 30-24…On Friday night, Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3) laid an egg in a 17-3 loss at Boston College (5-4, 1-4). The heat has turned up another level on Hokies head coach Justin Fuente.

Big 12: The upset of the day came in Fort Worth, as TCU (4-5, 2-4) upended No. 12 Baylor (7-2, 4-2), 30-28. The Horned Frogs, under interim head coach Jerry Kill, were playing their first game without former head coach Gary Patterson since 2000…No. 11 Oklahoma State (8-1, 5-1) used another dominant defensive performance to cruise past West Virginia (4-5, 2-4) in Morgantown, 24-3. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles should be a Broyles Award finalist…Iowa State (6-3, 4-2) bounced back from a loss to the Mountaineers last week by scoring the final 27 points in a 30-7 thumping of fading Texas (4-5, 2-4) in Ames. The Cyclones have now won three straight over the Longhorns and should return to the Big 12 Championship Game with wins over Texas Tech, Oklahoma and TCU…The Sunflower State Showdown went to Kansas State (6-3, 3-3) for the 13th straight time, as the Wildcats rolled over Kansas (1-8, 0-6), 35-10.

Big Ten: Purdue (6-3, 4-2) took down yet another giant, as the Boilermakers jumped on No. 3 Michigan State (8-1, 5-1) early and gradually pulled away in a 40-29 upset, their second win over a top-five team in three weeks. David Bell again led the way with 11 receptions for 217 yards, while quarterback Aidan O’Connell was brilliant in going 40-of-54 for 536 yards and three touchdowns…No. 5 Ohio State (8-1, 6-0) got a huge day from wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who caught 15 passes for 240 yards in the Buckeyes’ 26-17 win at Nebraska (3-7, 1-6). It wasn’t a crisp performance from Ohio State, but style points should be unnecessary at this point…Penn State (6-3, 3-3) got back on track with a 31-14 win at Maryland (5-4, 2-4). Jahan Dotson caught three touchdowns for the Nittany Lions…No. 21 Wisconsin (6-3, 4-2) stayed red-hot with a 52-3 rout of Rutgers (4-5, 1-5), while Iowa (7-2, 4-2) and Michigan (8-1, 5-1) bounced back from losses a week ago with victories in defensive battles against Northwestern (3-6, 1-5) and Indiana (2-7, 0-6) respectively…Illinois (4-6, 3-4) shocked No. 20 Minnesota (6-3, 3-3) with a 14-7 win in Minneapolis.

Pac-12: No. 4 Oregon (8-1, 4-1) rode running back Travis Dye to the tune of 211 yards on a rainy night in Seattle, as the Ducks held off rival Washington (4-5, 3-3) for a 26-16 win…Utah (6-3, 5-1) took full command of the Pac-12 South on Friday night with a 52-7 thrashing of collapsing Stanford (3-6, 2-5)…Arizona State (6-3, 4-2) kept division title hopes flickering with a 31-16 win over USC (4-5, 3-4)…It finally happened. For the first time in two years, one month and one day, Arizona (1-8, 1-5) won a football game, knocking off California (3-6, 2-4), 10-3. The Golden Bears were hampered by COVID protocols in Berkeley, which prevented many healthy players from being able to travel and play…After a 60-yard field goal sent the game to overtime, Oregon State (5-4, 3-3) missed a field goal in the second overtime at Colorado (3-6, 2-4), as the Buffaloes outlasted the Beavers, 37-34.

Group of Five: No. 6 Cincinnati (9-0, 5-0) had some challenges for a third straight week, holding off Tulsa (3-6, 2-3) with a fourth-down stop on the one-yard line in the final minute, 28-20…No. 10 Notre Dame (8-1) sputtered early on offense, but was never threatened by the triple option of Navy (2-7) in a 34-6 rout of the Midshipmen in South Bend…Boise State (5-4, 3-2) surprised No. 23 Fresno State (7-3, 4-2) with a dominant 40-14 road win…Memphis (5-4, 2-3) handed SMU (7-2, 3-2) a second straight loss with a 28-25 home win…UTSA (9-0, 5-0) stayed perfect with a 44-23 win at UTEP (6-3, 3-2). The Roadrunners will likely join the CFP Rankings this week after being left out last Tuesday…Army (5-3) claimed the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for a second straight season with an overtime comeback win over Air Force (6-3, 3-2), 21-14, at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

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

A Peek at Next Week
Early Afternoon:
Screen 1: No. 4 Oklahoma at No. 18  Baylor, Noon ET (FOX)
Screen 2: No. 9 Michigan at No. 23 Penn State, Noon ET (ABC)
Screen 3: Mississippi State at No. 16 Auburn, Noon ET (ESPN)

Late Afternoon:
Screen 1: No. 1 Georgia at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Screen 2: Purdue at No. 6 Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Screen 3: Minnesota at No. 19 Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET (BTN)

Screen 1: No. 11 Texas A&M at No. 12 Ole Miss, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Screen 2: No. 7 Notre Dame at Virginia, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Screen 3: No. 21 N.C. State at No. 13 Wake Forest, 7:30 p.m. ET (ACCN)

After Dark:
Screen 1: Washington State at No. 5 Oregon, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Screen 2: Nevada at San Diego State, 10:30 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
Screen 3: Utah State at San Jose State, 10:30 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.