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SEC Week Seven Recap

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

SEC Week 7 Recap
Scores
No. 8 Florida 44, No. 5 Georgia 28
Mississippi State 24, Vanderbilt 17
No. 7 Texas A&M 48, South Carolina 3
Arkansas 24, Tennessee 13

The Big Story
The balance of power in the SEC East has shifted. After Georgia made three straight trips to the SEC Championship Game, Florida seized control of the division on Saturday afternoon with a 41-7 run to overcome a 14-0 deficit and roll to a 44-28 win in Jacksonville over the Bulldogs. Following the early onslaught from the ‘Dawgs, Florida’s reliable passing attack and unproven defense combined to dominate the game, as the Gators more than doubled Georgia’s offensive output.

Kyle Trask threw a costly pick-six on a heady play by Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes, but the fifth-year senior was brilliant besides that throw, finishing 30-of-43 for 474 yards and four touchdowns. Florida was without likely All-American tight end Kyle Pitts for the second half after being injured on a play that led to a targeting ejection for Georgia safety Lewis Cine, but eight other Gators caught multiple passes. Dan Mullen’s offense made heavy use of wheel routes out of the backfield to carve up a Georgia defense that had held them to just 31 points in the prior two meetings.

Defensively, Florida shut down the running game after the opening-play 75-yard touchdown from Zamir White, with the Bulldogs managing just 90 yards on the ground for the duration of the game. The secondary left itself vulnerable to the deep ball at times, but much like Georgia failed to do in its loss to Alabama, Stetson Bennett and D’Won Mathis weren’t accurate enough to capitalize. Bennett suffered a shoulder injury in the first half, returned to the game, but was ultimately replaced in the second half by Mathis.

Florida now just needs to win four of its final five games to clinch the SEC East title, but the Gators have loftier goals. Despite a loss to Texas A&M last month, Florida is still very much alive for the College Football Playoff. The Gators have the offense to go toe-to-toe with Alabama and the rest of the nation’s best. The defense is far from perfect, but it no longer seems like a liability. Saturday felt like now or never for Florida with all the advantages it seemingly had coming into the game, and the Gators took full advantage in avenging three years of pain against their rivals to the north.

Top Takeaways
*A clean game from a competent team is good enough to beat a South Carolina squad that provides no fear factor whatsoever, but No. 7 Texas A&M’s 48-3 thumping of the Gamecocks on the road on Saturday night shouldn’t be brushed off as just a routine mauling of a poor opponent. Kellen Mond, who threw for four touchdowns, was once again efficient and protective of the football, and Mike Elko’s defense showed why Jimbo Fisher paid him the big bucks to lure him from Notre Dame upon his arrival in College Station.

Is Texas A&M a viable playoff contender? It’s the second week of November now, so it’s not an unfair discussion after four straight wins. We’re still at a place where, even though Texas A&M is better than its final four opponents, each of the quartet is good enough to knock off the Aggies. 9-1 with a loss to Alabama probably gives Texas A&M more than a 50 percent chance of snagging the No. 4 spot, but getting to 9-1 remains below a 50 percent chance to me with all four opponents having shown they have a ceiling high enough to take down the Aggies.

*Like its last road game, in which Tennessee saw a 21-17 halftime lead at Georgia melt into a 44-21 defeat, the Volunteers again skipped the third quarter of its 24-13 loss at Arkansas. Tennessee used its potent rushing game and a solid half of defense to build a 13-0 lead after 30 minutes, but Arkansas surged out of the locker room with 24 points to build a lead that it would not relinquish to improve to 3-3 and drop the Vols to a disappointing 2-4 with Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M still yet to come.

The issues with Tennessee are hard to grasp. They fail in the same way they’ve failed all season. The coaching staff is getting worked over in the halftime adjustments battle. The Vols have just seven second-half points in their last four games. How is that possible? Jeremy Pruitt and Jim Chaney spent almost all of the 2010s in the SEC. They know the league. Yet, they keep failing. Tennessee has the talent to finish in the top half of the league, even with quarterback play being inconsistent, but 3-7 is now staring the Vols right in the face. After finishing 2019 as one of the hottest teams in the country, the upcoming offseason looks like it will have the Tennessee program back at a crossroads.

Quick Hitters
*The SEC Coach of the Year competition is over. Full stop. That honor goes to Sam Pittman. After 20 straight SEC losses, Arkansas has now won three of five, with one of the two losses being a controversial last-second defeat at Auburn. The Razorbacks were unwatchable for most of the past two seasons, but are now pointing towards a .500 season. Feleipe Franks was a welcome addition at quarterback, as he Florida transfer played another steady game on Saturday night to lead the comeback win over Tennessee, but Pittman inherited a bad roster, hired good coaches, and is maximizing the capability of his first Razorbacks team.

*Mississippi State pulled a Molly Hatchett and flirted with disaster, but the Bulldogs made the most of their five takeaways to hold off a plucky Vanderbilt team, 24-17, to snap a four-game losing streak and drop the Commodores to 0-5. The Commodores had nearly 300 more yards than Mississippi State, but they couldn’t overcome their multitude of mistakes. It was a game fitting of the two worst teams in the SEC, as the game was lost, and not won. Vanderbilt true freshman quarterback Ken Seals has some potential. He makes way too many mistakes, but he’s playing well before he should be. Seals has been a minor bright spot in a season to forget.

*With credit to Chris Landry of LandryFootball.com, who has forgotten more football than I’ll ever know, for posing the idea last week, perhaps Saturday’s loss to Florida was a blessing in disguise for Georgia. Had the Bulldogs won and reached the SEC Championship Game for a fourth straight season, Kirby Smart making major changes would be unlikely. After the loss to the Gators, his defense has now been picked apart twice in three games. Even with a great defense, albeit a banged up one on Saturday, Georgia’s offense just can’t keep up with offenses of other great teams. Can the Bulldogs win championships without retooling their offense to look more like Alabama and Florida? That’s the question Smart will have to answer after a season that looks like it won’t end in Atlanta for the first time since 2016.

Around The Nation
*Special things happen when the No. 1 team comes to Notre Dame. From Catholics vs. Convicts to Nebraska’s Big Red invasion to the Bush Push, those games always deliver. Saturday night was no different, as the fourth-ranked Irish outlasted top-ranked Clemson in double-overtime, 47-40. Notre Dame led for most of the game, but Clemson seized a late lead before giving up the game-tying touchdown with 22 seconds left. After an Irish touchdown in the top half of the second overtime, back-to-back sacks forced Clemson into a 3rd and 24, and the Tigers couldn’t convert. The impact of Saturday’s classic on this season won’t be known for another 4-6 weeks. It could matter a ton. It could matter a very little. What matters most though is both teams delivered on the big stage, and college football fans were treated to perhaps the best game of the season. Sure, Clemson is going to the CFP if its wins it next four games, but the Tigers players and coaches didn’t give two cents about that after losing a game in heartbreaking fashion. That’s the beauty of college football.

*It was another topsy-turvy Saturday in the Big Ten, as Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State all suffered losses, including blowout defeats by the 1-2 Wolverines and 0-3 Nittany Lions to Indiana and Maryland respectively. Penn State has three 11-win seasons in four years, so a down year, particularly in 2020, shouldn’t cause major panic. Michigan, however, is now just 7-6 in its last 13 conference games. Can Jim Harbaugh get things figured out? Or are we already to the point where a divorce is inevitable?

*The Pac-12 returned with a couple of wild games. No. 20 USC needed a furious rally and onsides kick recovery to steal a home win over Arizona State, 28-27. Colorado built a 28-0 lead over UCLA in new head coach and former Bruins boss Karl Dorrell’s debut, but had to hang on late for a 48-42 win. Oregon hammered Stanford, which did not have quarterback Davis Mills available due to COVID protocols, and the Nick Rolovich era at Washington State began with a road win at Oregon State. It’s too early to make major judgements on the league, especially with two games being canceled, but it was nice to have the final holdout back on the field.

*The football gods are funny sometimes. Chris Klieman is normally a very sharp head coach, but with Kansas State leading Oklahoma State 12-0 in the second quarter of a game with major Big 12 Championship Game implications, Klieman inexplicably elected to go for two. It was no good. The Cowboys closed to within 12-10 in the second half, and at that point, it felt as if karma was going to kick in and have the Wildcats lose either 13-12 or 20-18 because they chased points way too early. Final score: Oklahoma State 20, Kansas State 18, after a second missed two-point attempt by the Wildcats that would have tied the game in the final minutes. Never tweak the football gods.

A Peek at Next Week
The Big One
No. 1 Alabama at LSU, 6 p.m. ET (CBS)
It doesn’t look like a great week for intrigue, as none of the early lines for the seven SEC games is less than a touchdown. Nevertheless, we’ll call Alabama-LSU the lead game for the week, mostly because it’s Alabama-LSU, not because it should be competitive past halftime. LSU seems likely to again be without quarterback Myles Brennan for this game. The Crimson Tide should roll to a payback win after last year’s loss in Tuscaloosa, but maybe some Death Valley magic can kick in and help provide a game worth watching.

Don’t Miss
No. 12 Georgia at Missouri, Noon ET (SEC Network)
No. 5 Texas A&M at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Arkansas at No. 6 Florida, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Flip Around
No. 9 Miami (FL) at Virginia Tech Noon ET (ESPN2)
No. 2 Notre Dame at Boston College, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
No. 3 Ohio State at Maryland, 3:30 p.m. ET (BTN)
No. 23 Northwestern at Purdue, 7:30 p.m. ET (BTN)
No. 11 Oregon at Washington State, 8 p.m. ET (FOX)

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.