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SEC Week Eight Recap

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith recaps week eight in the SEC.

SEC Week 8 Recap
Scores
Kentucky 38, Vanderbilt 35
No. 6 Florida 63, Arkansas 35
Ole Miss 59, South Carolina 42

The Big Story
Offense. Offense. Offense.
Six SEC teams played, and all six scored at least 35 points. All six teams gained at least 400 yards, with Ole Miss topping 700 yards in its entertaining win over South Carolina. Scores of Big 12 and SEC games this season are nearly identical, with the median team in both leagues averaging right around the 30 points per game mark. The modernization of SEC football is fully complete. The days of 9-6 games between conference title contenders are over.

Only one of these three stat lines will be good enough to earn SEC Offensive Player of the Week:

1. Ole Miss QB Matt Corral: 28-32, 513 yards, 4 TD
2. Florida QB Kyle Trask: 23-29, 356 yards, 6 TD
3. South Carolina RB Kevin Harris: 25 carries, 243 yards, 5 TD

Just think if more than half of the SEC wasn’t idle what additional stat lines we could see.

This isn’t all that surprising. All four new head coaches this year are rooted in the offensive side of the ball. It’s still seven and seven for the league as a whole with regards to head coaching background, but of what I believe are the top seven teams in the conference, five have head coaches with offensive backgrounds (Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss, Texas A&M), and the sixth (Alabama) has the greatest and most adaptive head coach of all time. In the two biggest games of the SEC season, both clashes between Heisman Trophy-contending quarterbacks and the most talented defense in the country in Georgia, the great offenses won convincingly.

If you’re looking for a program to take a big leap in the next few seasons, you’re pointing to Ole Miss, despite its defense being a complete sieve. Why? Because it can score at will, even against Alabama. Football is cyclical, but the shift in favor of offenses has been a steady drip in one direction for decades. It’s difficult to see a return to teams with dominant defenses and ball-control offenses winning conference titles. The SEC has been trending in this direction since the middle of last decade, but the shift may not have been more evident than it was in watching Saturday’s trio of games.

Top Takeaways
*There was no Georgia hangover for Florida, as Kyle Trask and the Gators delivered a dominant first half to never let former Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks and Arkansas threaten. The Gators had to overcome the ridiculous decision to wear their orange uniforms (why would you ever want to dress like Tennessee?), but Trask was up to the task, throwing five first-half touchdown passes despite not having star tight end Kyle Pitts available.

Florida dominated time of possession, holding the ball for more than 38 minutes in its 63-35 win. The ground game cracked the 200-yard mark for the first time this season – a good sign for an offense that doesn’t appear to have a weakness if everyone is healthy. I’m already getting excited to see the Gators take a chance at Alabama. Unlike Georgia, they can keep up with the Crimson Tide’s offense, as they proved once again on Saturday night.

*There are few things more fun to watch than a Lane Kiffin offense when it’s clicking on all cylinders. That was the case on Saturday night against South Carolina, as his Rebels cruised up and down the field for 59 points and 708 yards. The signature moment was a 91-yard go-ahead touchdown from Matt Corral to Elijah Moore. Kiffin signaled touchdown on the sideline before Corral even cocked his arm, threw his clipboard in the air when Moore caught the ball at midfield with no defender near him, and sprinted down the sideline as Moore was running to the end zone. It was classic Kiffin, blending both confidence and genius into one image.

Corral continues to play well since his disastrous day at Arkansas last month, as he broke Shea Patterson’s school record with 513 passing yards. The much-maligned defense actually got three consecutive stops of the Gamecocks to close out the game after momentarily falling behind early in the fourth quarter. The 3-4 Rebels will hopefully get to play Texas A&M next week, but that game is very much in question. The Aggies present a huge litmus test for this offense, as their defense has been quite salty since Alabama picked them apart six weeks ago.

Quick Hitters
*It wasn’t meant to be for Feleipe Franks in his return to Gainesville, but the Arkansas quarterback once again played well and showed his decision to leave Florida for the Razorbacks was the right one. He completed 15 of 19 passes for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns in defeat. On a weekly basis, it’s a pleasure seeing just how far Arkansas has come from 2018 and 2019. Franks is a huge part of that, and despite (presumably) this being his only season in Fayetteville, he’ll deserve a ton of credit if Sam Pittman’s team does take some more steps forward in the next couple of years for giving this program a chance when it was at its lowest.

*Kentucky had as tough of a week as any team has faced this season, as offensive line coach John Schlarman passed away on Thursday after a lengthy battle with cancer at the age of 45. The Wildcats honored Schlarman by taking a delay of game penalty on the first play of Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt, lining up with just 10 players on the field. Star left tackle Landon Young, who wore Schlarman’s old number, No. 65, for the game, remained on the sideline during the sequence. It was a poignant moment to see as Kentucky dealt with the emotions of losing a close friend on a public stage. Continued thoughts and prayers with the Schlarman and Kentucky football family.

The Wildcats honored Schlarman with their offensive line play as well, topping 300 yards rushing and not allowing a sack to help build a big lead over Vanderbilt that they had to cling to late in their 38-35 win. Chris Rodriguez led the way again, finishing with 149 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Terry Wilson regained his starting role after missing the loss to Georgia two weeks ago, playing well on a day where he missed just two of 15 pass attempts.

*Vanderbilt again showed some fight, scoring a pair of late touchdowns to trim the final margin to three. Despite barely having enough scholarship players to play, the Commodores keep delivering some punches. Ken Seals did not turn the ball over on Saturday – a big step for the true freshman quarterback. There hasn’t been a payoff in the win column yet, but Tennessee should be very concerned about coming to Nashville in two weeks. The Commodores will throw everything they have at their in-state rival and attempt to knock them off for the sixth time in nine years.

*Is Will Muschamp in trouble? I think South Carolina is at least making some inquiries with its big donors and see if the money is there to make a move. There isn’t within the athletic department itself in a year that has financial statements in bright red, but all it takes is for a couple of rich guys to be so fed up with Muschamp that they’d be willing to write a big check. The Gamecocks are 2-5, and 3-7 appears to be the ceiling, even after Kevin Harris ran for 243 yards and five scores in a losing effort against Ole Miss. It’s year five for Muschamp, and a first-year head coach just embarrassed Muschamp’s defense on Saturday night. It’s a bad look, but this decision will all come down to finances. The program is stale, and sense says it’s time for a change, but the dollars and cents may say differently.

Around The Nation
*Like Florida, Notre Dame mostly avoided a hangover from its huge win over Clemson last week in a 45-31 win at Boston College. The Irish put the ball on the ground too much, helping Boston College take early 10-3 and 13-10 leads, but the Eagles never had an answer for Ian Book and the Notre Dame offense. Book threw three touchdown passes to Ben Skowronek and ran for a fourth, and the Irish ground game topped 275 yards to run away from their former nemesis and former teammate, Eagles quarterback Phil Jurkovec, who delivered a gutty performance with a separated shoulder suffered two weeks ago against Clemson. The Irish have a week off before a fun game at North Carolina, who can score at will but doesn’t play a lick of defense, on Black Friday.

*Michigan and Penn State are now a combined 1-7 after both one-time superpowers fell behind big early in losses to Wisconsin and Nebraska respectively. The 0-4 Nittany Lions did fight back from a 24-3 deficit to have two chances to tie the game late after Will Levis replaced Sean Clifford under center, but left Lincoln 30-23 losers. The Wolverines were never competitive in their 49-11 home loss, and the clock may be ticking on Jim Harbaugh. I’d still be very surprised if Michigan pulls the plug, but Harbaugh is still very attractive to NFL teams, and he could leave on his own volition. The two teams meet on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in Ann Arbor, and tens of people will be tuning in.

*Indiana and Northwestern both moved to 4-0 with road wins at Michigan State and Purdue respectively. The Hoosiers blanked the Spartans, 24-0, while the Wildcats held off a late rally from the Boilermakers, 27-20. Indiana has to visit Ohio State next week, so a dose of reality may be coming for the Hoosiers, but both teams are viable New Year’s Six bowl contenders. The Wildcats won the Big Ten West in 2018, finished last in 2019 and will likely win it again in 2020 if it can defeat Wisconsin at home on Saturday afternoon. Margins for error will always be thin at Northwestern, but the frequency with which Pat Fitzgerald gets his teams to play to their ceiling is incredibly impressive.

*I may owe Karl Dorrell an apology, as Colorado improved to 2-0 with a 35-32 road win at Stanford on Saturday afternoon. Like many others, I thought hiring a guy who was last a head coach in 2007 at UCLA made little sense, especially after his one disastrous year as Vanderbilt’s offensive coordinator in 2014, but it’s a scoreboard business, and he’s still unbeaten. The Buffs were scheduled to host Arizona State next week, but the Sun Devils have significant COVID issues, so the game was canceled. Like Cal and UCLA did on Sunday in a game scheduled on Friday, Colorado could face a different team that also has a game canceled as the week progresses.

A Peek at Next Week
The Big One
Ole Miss at No. 5 Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
The status of this game is very tenuous due to a couple of COVID cases at Texas A&M, but I really hope it happens. Matt Corral against Kellen Mond is one of the best quarterback matchups we’ll see all season in this league, and it will be a great test for the Aggies defense to see if that unit is good enough for the Aggies to be truly worthy of a top-five ranking.

Don’t Miss
LSU at Arkansas, Noon ET (SEC Network)
Kentucky at No. 1 Alabama, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Tennessee at No. 23 Auburn, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Flip Around
No. 9 Indiana at No. 3 Ohio State, Noon ET (FOX)
No. 10 Wisconsin at No. 19 Northwestern, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
No. 7 Cincinnati at UCF, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Kansas State at No. 17 Iowa State, 4 p.m. ET (FOX)
No. 14 Oklahoma State at No. 18 Oklahoma, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

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.