Contrary to your belief, there are many fans who haven't been on the Mullen bandwagon before this year. Thanks for calling it to our attention though.
Another week in the books, this one nowhere near as wild as the one that preceded it. Below are our views on all of last week’s SEC action plus some quick snippets on preseason SEC predictions, Mississippi State’s arrival at the crossroads, Nick Saban pulling a Mike Shula (yes, really), and Tennessee’s cruel, cruel schedule.
Ladies and gentlemen, your weekend wrap…
Mississippi State 28, Kentucky 22 (Our Prediction: Mississippi State 30-21)
There were plenty of empty seats to be seen around Davis-Wade Stadium last Thursday. Those Bulldogs looking to remain positive can tell themselves that the empties were only empty due to the weeknight kickoff. The reality probably has something to do with Dan Mullen’s record against good teams. Until last year, State fans had barked whenever we mentioned the Dogs’ flair for beating up on creampuffs. This year, it seems some of the folks in maroon are starting to tire of the pastries, too. Those who did show up managed to violate the SEC noise-maker policy by breaking the so-called Cowbell Compromise and ringing them during play. Might an SEC fine be in store for MSU? In a game between the SEC’s cellar-dwellers — Kentucky’s now lost a dozen conference games in a row — just a few things stood out. First, Kentucky didn’t quit. Even with an offense that average less than five yards per pass attempt, UK managed to hang around. Second, State’s quarterback rotation appears to be a thing of the past. Dak Prescott played the vast majority of the game throwing 34 passes to Tyler Russell’s two. And third, a big hand for Bulldog receiver Jameon Lewis who threw for a touchdown, caught a pass for a score, and ran for another. Little guy (5-9), big night.
Texas A&M 56, Vanderbilt 24 (Our Prediction: Texas A&M 47-27)
The Aggies had a banged-up Johnny Manziel. The Commodores had a redshirt freshman QB making his first start. That’s not real fair. Playing with a sore shoulder, Johnny Football ran less (four carries, 11 yards) but threw just as well as ever. All told he completed 25-of-35 for 305 yards, four touchdowns and just one INT. It was gritty performance by the redshirt sophomore whose play this fall has more been far more worthy of attention than the off-field nonsense and shenanigans of last summer. Patton Robinette, the youthful QB for Vandy looked like a guy making his first start. On the road. He was 15-of-28 for 216 with one score and two picks, one of which opened the floodgates just after halftime. Vandy trailed just 28-17, but Howard Matthews’ 26-yard pick return for a score just seven seconds into the third quarter dashed the Dores’ hopes. Vanderbilt is just 1-4 in SEC play and the significance of the team’s win over Georgia last week looks larger by the second. How much shine would James Franklin’s halo have if the Commodores were sitting at 0-5 in the SEC right now?
Alabama 45, Tennessee 10 (Our Prediction: Alabama 38-10)
Another year, another blowout of the Vols by the Tide. Tennessee had shown improvement in its previous two outings against Georgia and South Carolina. Saturday the Vols learned that Georgia and South Carolina aren’t Alabama. While SEC fans will scream for schedule changes and UT fans will bemoan the loss, the most important Alabama/Tennessee contest to Butch Jones is being waged off the field. Both schools are ranked in the top five in most national recruiting rankings. For Jones to make the Vols more competitive with Bama next October, he’ll need hang with them on signing day in February. The Crimson Tide continued its incredible roll by pulverizing yet another SEC foe. Bama has beaten Ole Miss, Kentucky and Arkansas by a combined score of 170-17. (A bright side for Tennessee? They scored 10 of those 17.) The Crimson Tide played a full 60 minutes on Saturday — more on that in a second — and their fans stuck around as well, just as Nick Saban had demanded. Bama players said after the game that they’d felt disrespected by Tennessee’s decision to call them “the red team” during UT’s practices. That just goes to show that players will spin or twist anything in an effort to create extra motivation. If the coach of Team X says Team is “very, very good,” you can be sure the players on Team Y will say, “They don’t respect us for being great.”
LSU 48, Furman 16 (Our Prediction: LSU 38-17)
It seems this ridiculous game wasn’t just a snooze fest for fans. LSU’s players did a lot of sleepwalking throughout the first half. Three Tiger turnovers kept the Paladins in this one past halftime. Zach Mettenberger threw two more INTs, meaning six of this seven picks on the year have come in LSU’s last four games. Asked if he was forcing passes after the game, the senior snapped, “I don’t know, you tell me.” A big second half (28-0 LSU) and some big numbers (Mettenberger 328 yards passing, Jeremy Hill 143 yards passing, Odell Beckham 204 yards receiving) helped to erase the Bayou Bengals’ less than stellar start.
South Carolina 27, Missouri 24 in Overtime (Our Prediction: South Carolina 35-34)
We’ve written about this game already, so just a few quick bulletpoints here. First, Michael Sam is the best defensive player most SEC fans have never paid attention to. With another sack on Saturday he now has 10 on the year which is tied for the highest total in the country. Second, Gary Pinkel’s decision to run out the clock and go to overtime was booed, but it was sound. There were 45 seconds left in a tie game, Carolina had just posted 17 straight points and freshman QB Maty Mauk had gone cold in the second half (complete 40% of his passes). Mizzou tried a swing pass to see if they could pick up some yards and get away from their own red zone, but USC snuffed it out. MU was the home team and there was no reason to think they couldn’t get the job done in overtime. It was the right call, it just didn’t work. Third, please don’t start the “Missouri’s not for real” talk. The Tigers have beaten Georgia and Florida and they totally bamboozled the Gamecocks for 48 minutes, only losing in double-overtime. Until Missouri drops a few more, they look real enough to us. And fourth, what more can be said about the performance of Connor Shaw. Summoned from the bench he came in and immediately kickstarted the Cocks’ offense despite having a sprained knee. Shaw has earned his spot on Steve Spurrier’s “favorite quarterbacks” list and his fourth-and-goal TD pass to Bruce Ellington in overtime will be viewed as Carolina’s play of the year if they somehow capture the East Division title. A performance for the ages.
Auburn 45, Florida Atlantic 10 (Our Prediction: Auburn 42-13)
There’s not much good that can come from these games other than injuries. Unfortunately for Tiger quarterback Nick Marshall, he sustained one in the second quarter. After missing Auburn’s October 12th game with Western Carolina with a knee injury, Marshall hurt his shoulder versus FAU. Once again true freshman Jeremy Johnson backed him up well with a 10-of-16 passing effort good for 192 yards and two scores (against one INT). A hat tip must be given to Gus Malzahn for having his team ready to play against a ho-hum foe just one week after an exhilarating upset victory at Texas A&M. The Plainsmen jumped out to a 38-0 first-half lead to put the Owls out of commission early. AU coaches have stated that they believe Marshall should be ready to go on Saturday against Arkansas.
Ole Miss 59, Idaho 14 (Our Prediction: Ole Miss 45-10)
Have we said these kinds of games are only good for bumps and bruises? That’s probably why Hugh Freeze decided to rest a number of key starters (running back Jeff Scott, linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, etc). No matter, Bo Wallace threw two TD passes in a 186-yard effort. Running back I’Tavius Mathers cranked out 138 yards on 14 carries and Ja-Mes Logan added 122 yards on six catches. No fuss, no muss, and — most importantly — no key injuries as the Rebels head into their bye week.
You Think You Know, But You Don’t Know And You Never Will
A hat tip to former New Orleans Saints coach Jim Mora for the headline above. Remember back in July when the predicted order of finish in the SEC East looked like this: Georgia, Carolina, Florida, Vandy, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky? And when the SEC media picked the West to look like this: Bama, Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State and Arkansas? Back then it looked as though Missouri and Auburn would be easy pickings for the league’s elite. And that elite was supposed to include a Florida team that — thanks to injuries and sub-par offensive weaponry — looks quite ordinary today. The point, of course, is that anyone moaning about a schedule in July or August has no real clue as to whose schedule will really be tough and whose will actually turn out to be weak. This of course brings us back to the idea of doctoring the SEC schedule based on recent results rather than long-term, historical results. Year-to-year, there’s no telling who’ll surprise and who’ll disappoint. For the next round of SEC schedule tweaks, here’s hoping the league’s leaders keep that in mind. (They won’t.)
Mississippi State’s Arrives At The Crossroads
Robert Johnson arrived at a crossroads on the Mississippi Delta lo about 1930-something and sold his soul to that there Devil in exchange for some supernatural guitar lessons. At least that’s the legend surrounding the blues man’s meteoric rise and fall. Mississippi State’s football program has arrived at such a crossroads this season, though there’s no guitar and nothing supernatural about the school’s options. If Dan Mullen finishes this season as most would expect (losses to South Carolina, Texas A&M, Alabama and Ole Miss with a win over Arkansas) he’ll be 5-7 with a sophomore quarterback (Dak Prescott) to build around. Now maybe 5-7 isn’t a real good record, but for State the decision to change coaches anytime soon could come with consequences. Mullen was popular early on in his tenure as he beat Ole Miss for three straight years and led the Dogs to bowl games. Included in that run was an expectation-raising nine-win season in just his second year in Starkville. Tickets sold out. Stadium expansion was discussed, approved and is now on the way. But now the MSU fanbase is splitting. Some look at Mullen’s record, aspire for greater results, and want to make a change. Others see Mullen as a guy who’ll earn for State six wins and a bowl invitation in most years and after a century of bottom-feeder status, that’s not too darn bad. That split leaves AD Scott Stricklin standing squarely at his own crossroads. And there are actually two devils hanging out with him there — the devil he knows (Mullen and an average football program) and the devil he doesn’t (a new coach who might win more, but could also win less). Even more devilishly, a stadium expansion project provides either the best or worst motivation for making a switch. Perhaps changing leaders will excite State’s fanbase further. Or, due to another firing, the new seats at Scott Field could be left empty until a new coach actually starts winning. Now that’s what you call the Crossroad Blues.
Tennessee’s Schedule All Kinds Of Brutal
In September, new Vols coach Butch Jones used a little hyperbole when discussing his first team’s football schedule. In his view, Tennessee faced the “toughest schedule in college football history.” At least that’s what he told CBS announcers Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson. At the time, his team was looking down a murderer’s row that included nationally-ranked Oregon, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. That’s a rough patch of games. Only the schedule looks even worse now with games against nationally-ranked Missouri and Auburn on the horizon. All told, the Vols figure to face seven ranked opponents this year. Four of those will have been played on the road. At least four and possibly five will have been in the Top 10 when the Volunteers came calling. And — for the cherry on top — UT has already played both the #1 and #2 teams in the BCS standings. On the road. Here’s the full roll call: at Oregon (#2 at the time), at Florida (#19), Georgia (#6), South Carolina (#11), at Alabama (#1), at Missouri (#9), and Auburn (#11). In all seriousness, that actually does look like one of the toughest schedules in the history of college football. Amazingly, Jones’ squad is 4-4 and still in the running for a bowl if it can grab two more wins from its final four games: Mizzou, Auburn, Vandy (home) and Kentucky (away). Even if Jones finishes 5-7 this season, he’ll have already done more with less than Derek Dooley who went 5-7 against an easier schedule last year with current NFL’ers Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, Tyler Bray, and Mychal Rivera on his roster.
Nick Saban Pulls A Mike Shula
It was October 1st, 2005. Alabama was beating the stuffing out of Florida 31-3. Mike Shula still had a number of starters in the game in the fourth quarter. One of them was receiver Tyrone Prothro whose career was cut short when he broke both the tibia and the fibula in his leg while trying to make a catch. It was one of the ugliest injuries ever seen and Shula’s approval ratings, if you will, dropped from that point on. “What kind of idiot has his starters in at that point?” Back on October 30th of 2010, Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino made the same kind of error. His Razorbacks were whipping Vanderbilt 35-14 when receiver Greg Childs — still in the game — suffered a patella tendon injury that cost him his season. When the lead is insurmountable, why keep the starters in? It’s not the NFL where a roster only has 53 active players. There are three, four and sometimes five levels of backups in the college game. Only a Grade A nitwit would be silly enough to leave his starters in like that, right? Wrong. The best coach of our age did the same thing on Saturday. Rather than salt away a sure victory, Nick Saban left the majority of his starters in the game deep into the fourth quarter versus Tennessee. Quarterback AJ McCarron led a field goal drive that pushed Bama’s lead from 42-10 to 45-10 with just 6:50 to play. Now, his players had asked to stay in as they felt “disrespected” by the Vols’ decision to refer to them as “the red team” all week. And you can be sure the Tide fans that stayed loved every one of those final three points. But if McCarron had had his leg snapped like a twig Prothro-style, one has to wonder how much heat Saban — Nick frickin’ Saban — would have taken for making such a dangerous and downright dumb decision.