Here’s your weekly breakdown of all the SEC action from the previous weekend. We provide one key stat as well our own MrSEC.com takeaway from each contest.
As usual it’s done in no-huddle, up-tempo fashion.
South Carolina 38, Arkansas 20 in Columbia (East) – Video Highlights
Key Stat: 11.2 yards per pass. That’s what Carolina QB Connor Shaw averaged against the Razorbacks’ spotty secondary. Last Friday we wrote that with RB Marcus Lattimore injured, the Cocks would likely have to use the pass to open up the ground game. They did. USC threw 25 passes for 279 yards while rushing for 104 yards (just 2.5 yards per carry). Teams are going to dare Shaw to beat them through the air. Saturday, he did.
* Same song, different verse. Arkansas turned the ball over three more times in Columbia. That brings their season total to 24 giveaways and they’re at minus-13 overall in turnover margin. You can’t win in the SEC like that. Most disturbing were two more picks by QB Tyler Wilson. No one has missed Bobby Petrino more than Wilson (at least in terms of his stats). The young man once expected to be a top NFL draft choice next spring is currently ranked just sixth in the SEC in passer rating with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. No one in the league has thrown more INTs than Wilson. Making matters worse, his completion percentage ranks just eighth in the conference.
* Saturday was a special day at Carolina. Off the field, Lattimore’s video message to Gamecock fans — in which he vowed to rehab and return to the field — was an emotional hit. On the field, Carolina wrapped up its eighth win of the season. At most schools, that feat might not mean a whole lot, but it marks the first time in the history of USC’s program that the Cocks have won eight or more games in three consecultive seasons. It took him a while to turn things around, but Steve Spurrier will leave Columbia as USC’s most successful coach when he eventually walks away.
Florida 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 20 in Gainesville – Video Highlights
Key Stat: 162 yards passing. Our key for Florida last Friday was to simply show up and partake in a little target practice through the air. Instead, UF again struggled with its passing attack and likely lost QB Jeff Driskel for Saturday’s game with Jacksonville State due to a sprained ankle. Without a passing attack, it’s hard to picture the Gators beating Florida State in two weeks.
* This might have been the craziest ending to a game in SEC history. With 1:42 to play, Louisana-Lafayette led UF 20-13 in the Swamp. Then came a three-yard touchdown pass from fill-in QB Jacoby Brissett. Tie game, 20-20. The Ragin’ Cajuns got the ball at their own 27 on the ensuing kickoff. They ran three times for nine yards. Will Muschamp called timeout to stop the clock after his team’s third-down stop. With thirteen seconds to play and the ball on Lafayette’s side of the field, a punt block returned for a touchdown was all that could prevent overtime. Snap, block. Linebacker Jelani Jenkins fielded the ball and returned for the game-winning score. (Ironically, one of the the Ragin’ Cajuns’ touchdowns had come via a blocked punt earlier in the game.) The Gators scored 14 points in the final 1:42 to escape with a win.
Missouri 51, Tennessee 48 in 4 OT in Knoxville – Video Highlights
Key Stat: 3 4th-down conversions. In the second half, Tennessee continually let Missouri off the hook. On three occasions the Tiger offense converted fourth-down tries including 4th-and-9 and 4th-and-12 plays on the final game-tying drive in regulation. With less than a minute remaining, QB James Franklin hit freshman WR Dorial Green-Beckham with a 15-yard pass on the aformentioned 4th-and-12 play.
* Tennessee’s defense seemed to respond to some changes made earlier in the week that simplified the defense further and moved defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri from the sideline to the pressbox. But things fell apart in the second half again. Twice Mizzou marched back from 14-point deficits. And while he was far from perfect, Franklin completed 19-of-33 passes for 226 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Missouri’s quarterback had four TD passes on the season coming into Saturday’s game.
* Vol coach Derek Dooley sealed his fate in the minds of many Tennessee fans when he chose to play for overtime at the end of regulation. His offense would pass for 432 yards on the day, but facing a 3rd-and-10 at his own 39 with under a minute remaining — and two timeouts in his pocket — Dooley decided to let the clock roll down. At home. Those Volunteer fans in attendance let their embattled coach hear it by way of thousands of boo birds.
Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24 in Tuscaloosa – Video Highlights
Key Stat: 345 yards. That was the total offensive output by QB Johnny Manziel as he led Texas A&M to a massive upset of #1 Alabama in Bryant Denny-Stadium. Last Friday we noted that Manziel had averaged between 6.96 and 10.94 yards per play in A&M first seven wins this season. In the Aggies’ two losses to Florida and LSU, he’d been held to under five yards per play (4.96 versus UF and 4.15 versus LSU). Against a Bama D that’s now looked a bit shaky in consecutive weeks, “Johnny Football” averaged 7.04 yards per play. In the third and fourth quarters, Manziel led a 63-yard drive for a field goal, a 51-yard drive that resulted in a missed field goal, and a 66-yard touchdown drive. All told the redshirt freshman ran or passed the ball 49 times and never turned it over.
* The Aggie victory sent shockwaves across the SEC and America. First, a lot of SEC fans who were against expansion can now point to this win by an SEC newbie over the SEC’s strongest team as Exhibit A in their case against growing the league. A&M probably cost the SEC a shot at its seventh BCS title. (How ironic would it be if the Aggies’ victory helped Kansas State and the Big XII capture this year’s crown?) Alabama’s shot at back-to-back titles is likely gone. For the first time since 2005, the BCS title game probably won’t feature an SEC team. A new power — Oregon or Kansas State — could grab its first BCS title. Or an old power — Notre Dame — could now collect its first national title since way back 1988. In addition, TAMU’s win probably caused a few SEC fans to realize that a winning team in the state of Texas could really pose problems going forward for the league’s old guard.
* For the second week in a row, Bama showed heart in fighting its way back at the end of the game. QB AJ McCarron led the Tide 58 yards in under three minutes before throwing an interception in the end zone on a 4th-and-Goal play with 1:43 left to play. Even then, the Tide defense almost gave McCarron and company another shot. But with A&M having to punt on 4th-and-1 from its own 13 with less than a minute, Alabama jumped offsides. First down, Aggies. Ballgame. End of the SEC’s BCS championship run (unless the Alabama or Georgia get a lot of help elsewhere).
Georgia 38, Auburn 0 in Auburn – Video Highlights
Key Stat: Everything. No really, this was total domination. UGA led 28-0 at the half. The Dawgs rolled up 497 yards of offense before taking the air out of the ball in the second half. They out passed the Tigers. They outrushed the Tigers. They even won the turnover battle. There was absolutely nothing close about this one.
* If Auburn’s administration was looking for a reason to spare Gene Chizik, it likely found nothing of the sort on Saturday. The Tigers gave up touchdown drives to Georgia on the Bulldogs’ first four possessions. They mustered just 57 yards rushing themselves. The lone semi-bright spot was the play of freshman QB Jonathan Wallace who completed 15-of-22 passes for 181 yards. That’s about as respectable as things got for Auburn in front an unhappy crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
* With WR Marlon Brown and WR Michael Bennett both done for the year with ACL injuries, UGA O-coordinator Mike Bobo turned to the ground game. Georgia ran the ball 42 times for 289 yards (a whopping 6.9 yards-per-carry average) and had two players — RB Todd Gurley and RB Keith Marshall — both go over the century mark on the ground. The easy win wrapped up the second SEC East title in a row for Georgia and Mark Richt.
LSU 37, Mississippi State 17 in Baton Rouge – Video Highlights
Key Stat: 2.0 yards per rush. That’s all MSU could manage against LSU’s ferocious defense en route to a puny 47-yard output on the ground. State averaged 180 yards per game rushing in its first seven victories. In its three straight defeats, the Dogs have not topped 98 yards rushing in a game and are averaging just 2.6 yards per rush over that span.
* Mississippi State is having a serious sugar crash. After feasting on cupcakes early in the season — MSU’s SEC wins this season have come against three teams who are still winless in league play — Dan Mullen’s squad has been exposed in three consecutive games against ranked opponents. The lesson in losses to Alabama (38-7), Texas A&M (38-13), and LSU (37-17)? That playing Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama and MTSU might help your win-loss record, but those kinds of games aren’t going to prepare you for facing the big boys of the SEC. Disappointing.
* LSU did as we suggested on Friday and tried to keep QB Zach Mettenberger hot. And that plan worked. After a breakout performance against Alabama a week ago, LSU’s signal-caller completed 19-of-30 passes for 273 yards, two TDs and zero INTs. Les Miles’ Tigers will always have a power run game as part of their DNA, but the more confident Mettenberger becomes, the more difficult LSU will be to defend moving forward.
Vanderbilt 27, Ole Miss 26 in Oxford – Video Highlights
Key Stat: 9 plays, 79 yards, 1:51. After trailing 23-6 five minutes into the third quarter, Vanderbilt roared back late and faced a 26-20 deficit with with just over two minutes to play. James Franklin’s squad then marched those 79 yards in just nine plays to grab the lead back from Ole Miss, held on the defensive end, and achieved bowl eligibility for the third time in Vandy’s last five seasons. Those bowls and that come-from-behind drive prove — at least in our opinion — that the VU program has turned a significant corner. No, the Dores aren’t Alabama, Florida or LSU just yet, but Franklin (with some recruiting and redshirting help from Bobby Johnson before him) has transformed Vandy into a competitive SEC football program.
* It would have been easy to use QB Jordan Rodgers’ numbers as our “Key Stat,” but players put up good numbers from time to time. We felt that drive was more symbolic of what appears to be going on in Nashville overall. But the man who led the drive deserves praise as well. Vandy’s all-time leading rusher, Zac Stacy, left the game after just his second carry. Rodgers picked up the slack as his big brother — Packers QB Aaron Rodgers — cheered him on from the sideline. His final stat line was a fine 20-of-35 for 267 yards, two touchdowns and nary a pick. On what turned out to be the Commodores’ game-winning drive, Rodgers completed 5-of-6 passes for 77 yards. He also converted a 4th-and-2 with a three-yard run of his own before eventually completing a 26-yard scoring pass to WR Chris Boyd.
* For the third week in a row, Ole Miss failed to rush for more than 77 yards. Their 77-, 46-, and 55-yard efforts against Arkansas, Georgia and Vandy are their three worst performances on the season. Saturday they actually ran the ball 40 times for 55 yards (including three sacks for 22 yards) which equaled a ridiculous 1.4 yards-per-carry average. Mississippi’s troubles on the ground rendered moot a terrific passing performance from QB Bo Wallace who tallied 403 passing yards on 31 completions in 49 attempts.