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SEC Weekend Recap

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Recapping all of the weekend's action in the SEC.

Results

(22) Missouri 9, Connecticut 6
(17) Texas A&M 44, Nevada 27
(13) LSU 45, (18) Auburn 21
Mississippi State 62, Northwestern State 13
Vanderbilt 47, Austin Peay 7
(7) Georgia 52, South Carolina 20
Texas Tech 35, Arkansas 24
Tennessee 55, Western Carolina 10
Florida 14, Kentucky 9
(15) Ole Miss 43, (2) Alabama 37

10 Things We Learned

1. Ole Miss will answer the bell.

Heading into the weekend, there was no team in the country we knew less about than the Rebels, given the quality, or lack thereof, of their first two opponents. After falling behind, Alabama threw everything it had at Ole Miss which, up until last year, had been a perennial punching back for The Tide. Ole Miss could have wilted under the bright lights of Bryant-Denny Stadium, but Chad Kelly, in his first start in a game of consequence, was outstanding, completing 18 of 33 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns.

Yes, the throw that turned into a 66-yard touchdown pass to Quincy Adeboyejo, reminiscent of the old “Nothing but Net” McDonald’s commercials from the ‘90s with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, was a bad decision that just happened to work out. But in the second half, in a game that seemed like it would never end, Kelly and the Rebels were steady, avoiding the tragic mistake that could have completed the Crimson Tide comeback. Now a bona fide national title contender, the schedule lightens for Ole Miss until an Oct. 24 visit from Texas A&M.

2. Alabama is far from dead.

No, the dynasty isn’t over. When you finish minus-five in turnover margin, you’re almost never going to win a football game. Period. In a game that felt much like the Crimson Tide’s 2012 home defeat to Texas A&M, Alabama nearly overcame its big mistakes to pull off a miracle comeback, but ultimately fell short to drop its SEC opener for the first time in the Nick Saban era.

I still believe the SEC West champion will have two losses. Alabama needs help now from Ole Miss, but the Tide may even be able to afford another loss and still contend for a playoff spot given their rigorous schedule. They had to abandon their running game with such a large deficit, but you could see the physicality that propelled the team to three national titles in four years is still present on both sides of the ball. After an easy week against Louisiana-Monroe, the Oct. 3 trip to Georgia looms just as large, and perhaps larger, than it was before Alabama was beaten on Saturday night.

3. Something is wrong at Auburn.

I’ll be waiting for my Pulitzer Prize after that brilliant statement. But this is more than just a team that isn’t playing well. The characteristics of “team” – the things that define what a “team” should be about – just aren’t there right now. That’s not to say the players aren’t out there giving maximum effort, but the confidence and trust in each other, which was so pervasive on the 2013 SEC championship team, are gone.

This will be a trying week for Gus Malzahn. He can call plays as well as anybody, but Auburn’s issues run deeper. It’s culture, more so than talent or scheme, that seems to be dooming the Tigers. That’s the only explanation for the past two weeks – a near-disaster against Jacksonville State and a mauling at LSU far worse than the 45-21 final score would indicate. This team is teetering, but it’s in the same position it was in 2013 after a loss in Baton Rouge. We’ve seen nothing to think that these Tigers can be those Tigers, although next week’s home game with Mississippi State should be very telling about how high (or low) this team can go.

4. Arkansas is on the verge of a complete collapse.

I stated all summer that Arkansas was the team I felt I knew the most about. I figured the gap between its floor and ceiling was very small, with a finish between 7-5 and 9-3 almost a certainty. Today, not so much. The Razorbacks are 1-2, and now play three consecutive games away from home starting in the Metroplex against Texas A&M before road trips to Tennessee and Alabama.

Injuries have decimated the Arkansas offense, with receiver Jared Cornelius added to the list Saturday night with a broken arm (don’t watch the video if you’re squeamish – an arm is only supposed to bend in one place). But that doesn’t change the fact that the Hogs have now lost to a MAC team and a team that they beat by 21 points on the road a year ago. A 1-5 start seems very possible, if not likely. Bret Bielema’s bravado has done neither him nor his team any favors. Confidence is important, but it’s fickle – especially when you fail to back up your boasting.

5. Leonard Fournette can win the Heisman Trophy

Only two running backs have won the Heisman this century, but without many great quarterbacks in college football, it might be time to end that drought. Fournette shredded the Auburn defense right from the initial play on Saturday afternoon, amassing 228 yards on just 19 carries – a whopping 12 yards per carry. The holes were aplenty, but Fournette did much more than just hit a hole and go.

We saw a taste late last season of how great Fournette can be, and now we’re seeing it on a weekly basis. There will be better tests ahead come November, but it might not matter if the New Orleans native continues on this tear. I didn’t see Herschel Walker play at Georgia, and I have a hard time believing any running back will do what No. 34 did, but No. 7 in Baton Rouge maybe the closest thing we’ve seen since Walker’s college career ended 33 years ago.

6. Geoff Collins has another great defense.

While Collins did inherit a very nice situation after leaving Mississippi State for Florida after last season, the Gators defensive coordinator does deserve credit for how his unit has played through three weeks. Kentucky’s offensive line was overmatched by the Florida front in Saturday night’s 14-9 Gators victory, as Jonathan Bullard and Alex McCalister each registered two of the team’s six sacks.

All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III returned to the field after a one-game absence, making his impact felt early with an interception return to set up a touchdown, which was about all the Florida defense would need. The offense is much too inconsistent for the Gators to be a viable SEC East title contender, but this defense will keep Florida in every game this season, even with SEC West powers LSU and Ole Miss on the schedule in the coming weeks.

7. Kentucky has a fatal flaw.

Mark Stoops took over a depleted roster three years ago and has turned it into one that can compete with most SEC teams. He’s recruited well, but the Wildcats still lack difference-makers on the offensive line. Against South Carolina, that’s OK. But against Florida and other comparable defensive fronts? That’s going to continue to burn the ‘Cats.

The six sacks allowed against the Gators cost Kentucky a chance to finally beat Florida despite a great effort from its defense. You can see the potential of this team, but as we saw last year with Tennessee, poor offensive line play is going to lower your ceiling dramatically.

8. Missouri has lost its identity.

During their back-to-back SEC Championship Game runs, Missouri succeeded with takeaways, quarterback pressure and clutch play from its quarterback. The Tigers haven’t gotten any of those this season, and are very fortunate to be 3-0 heading into SEC play. Maty Mauk had another inconsistent day passing, now sitting with a poor 52.5 percent completion percentage. The Tigers have only six sacks in three game, and are even in turnover margin.

Can Missouri revert to its old self? There aren’t the dangerous pass rushers. There aren’t the reliable wide receivers. Mauk is still there, and continues to play better as the game progresses, but there’s no one right now to help him. That works against Arkansas State and Connecticut, and it may even work the next two weeks against Kentucky and South Carolina. But when the schedule truly stiffens in mid-October, the Tigers don’t appear to have the ingredients to make the 2013 and 2014 recipe for victory work.

9. Greyson Lambert is the man at Georgia.

After not completing a pass in the first half of last week’s win over Vanderbilt, Lambert did a complete 180 on Saturday night against South Carolina, setting the NCAA record for single-game completion percentage (min. 20 pass attempts). Lambert misfired on just one of his 25 pass attempts, finishing with 330 yards and three touchdowns.

Yes, the South Carolina defense stinks, but for Lambert, who could not have entered Sanford Stadium swimming in confidence after the Vanderbilt game, to do what he did, that says a lot about his mental makeup. He’s not Aaron Murray or Matthew Stafford, but that’s not what he needs to be with Nick Chubb behind him and an elite defense. Mark Richt was forced to make a change a week ago, but that’s no longer an issue. This is Lambert’s team – a team that is by far the class of the SEC East.

10. Steve Spurrier is fighting a war with a BB gun.

Outside of perhaps his very early South Carolina teams, this Gamecocks roster is the worst that Spurrier has had in his 22 years as an SEC head coach. It’s not a broken locker room. It just doesn’t have the players to compete at the highest level. Walk-on quarterback Perry Orth isn’t good enough to win in this conference, and the defense just allowed an NCAA record-breaking performance from an opposing quarterback that was benched a week ago.

Recruiting has taken a tangible dip in the past few seasons in Columbia, and it’s starting to show. Outside of Pharoh Cooper, where are the NFL players on this roster? There really aren’t any, and some of the ones that could be are injured. Given how long it took for Spurrier to build South Carolina into an SEC East title contender when he took over in 2005, he may not want to start over after turning 70 in April. No one wants to see him retire, but it feels like even he isn’t going to be able to fix this program.

Week 4 Lookahead

There’s no colossal showdown next week, but there are four very important division games that will create some separation in the races to Atlanta. Tennessee and Florida clash under the bright sunshine (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS), with the winner likely earning the unofficial honor of being Georgia’s biggest threat in the SEC East.

Arkansas and Texas A&M meet at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (7 p.m. ET, ESPN), with the Razorbacks desperate for a win after two straight losses. Mississippi State travels to wounded Auburn (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2), hoping to defeat the Tigers for the third time in four years. Missouri opens SEC play at Kentucky (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network). The Tigers will be aiming for their ninth straight SEC road win.

After perhaps the biggest win in program history, Ole Miss returns home to face Vanderbilt (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU). Alabama steps out of conference to host Louisiana-Monroe (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network), which upset the Tide in Tuscaloosa in 2007. LSU will finally play its first non-conference game, making the long trip to upstate New York to battle Syracuse (12 p.m. ET, ABC).

South Carolina hosts 0-3 UCF (12 p.m. ET, ESPNU), while Georgia tunes up for Alabama’s visit against Southern (12 p.m. ET, SEC Network).

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.