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Week Three SEC Recap

By Matt Smith
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Matt Smith recaps week three in the SEC.

SEC Week 3 Recap
No. 21 Texas A&M 41, No. 4 Florida 38
South Carolina 41, Vanderbilt 7
Missouri 45, No. 17 LSU 41
No. 3 Georgia 44, No. 14 Tennessee 21
No. 13 Auburn 30, Arkansas 28
No. 2 Alabama 63, Ole Miss 48
Kentucky 24, Mississippi State 2

The Big Story
It wasn’t a must-win for Texas A&M, but it sure felt that way as the Aggies went blow-for-blow with No. 4 Florida on a steamy afternoon in College Station. A late fumble by Florida’s Malik Davis set the Aggies up near midfield, and Kellen Mond guided the offense into short field-goal range for Seth Small, who drilled the game-winning kick with no time remaining in a 41-38 win.

Credit to Mond and Jimbo Fisher for identifying a matchup advantage, which was the Aggies’ big receivers in the middle of the field against Florida’s smaller defensive backs. 6’5” Caleb Chapman led the way with nine catches for 151 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-tying score with under five minutes to play. Mond played turnover-free football in one the best games of his career.

The offensive line deserves a ton of credit. Mond was not sacked, and the Texas A&M ground game exploded for more than 200 yards and 5.4 yards per carry. The protection allowed Mond to get in a rhythm, which is when he can really thrive as a quarterback. The schedule eases a bit in the coming weeks with Mississippi State, Arkansas and South Carolina the next three opponents. The Aggies should be disappointed if they’re not 5-1 before traveling to Tennessee.

Top Takeaways
*Nick Saban vs. Lane Kiffin was expected to be must-see television for the interactions and facial expressions between the two former colleagues, but it turned into one of the most exciting games of the young season. Alabama and Ole Miss combined for 1,370 yards and just two punts. With the game tied at 42-42 in the fourth quarter, the Crimson Tide’s defense broke serve twice and held Ole Miss to field goals, allowing Alabama to pull away for a 63-48 win. Mac Jones and Matt Corral combined for just 11 completions, while the game featured 15 total touchdowns.

Alabama’s defense had no answers for Kiffin’s offense until the offensive line started to wear down late in the game. In 2011, the Tide allowed three rushing touchdowns the entire season. Ole Miss scored four times on the ground on Saturday night. With Georgia not on the schedule, the Rebels are going to pick apart every defense they face this season but it was eye-opening to see an Alabama defense look so consistently lost.

*To the biggest controversy of the day. Trailing Arkansas 28-27, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix fumbled a snap from center, picked the ball up, spiked the football, but through it backwards, which is technically a fumble. The whistles blew, thinking it was either a legal spike, or an illegal spike (because of the missed snap) and intentional grounding. Arkansas ultimately recovered the fumble, but it was well after the whistle was blown, and there was not deemed to be the required clear and immediate recovery to reverse the ruling of an incomplete pass and intentional grounding penalty. Auburn kept the football and kicked the game-winning field goal on the following play for a 30-28 win.

*I understand the frustration of Arkansas fans, but I get why the ruling was what it was. Arkansas’ Joe Foucha looked to have what I would have considered a clear recovery, but the ball squirted out, and Foucha didn’t fall on it until three seconds later, next to an Auburn player and an official clearly making an incomplete pass signal. If Foucha had made a clean recovery on his first attempt, I think that would have been enough to reverse the call and give the ball to Arkansas. It was a wacky play and a gaffe by Nix, but I would call it a bad break for Arkansas, not an injustice.

Quick Hitters
*Georgia allowed 21 points in the first half to Tennessee, but it has to be noted that seven came on a fumble recovery in the end zone, and the other 14 came on long passes on drives that started in Georgia territory. The Vols had no long scoring drives against the nation’s best defense and managed just 71 yards of offense after halftime. Third down was once again an issue for Tennessee, as they converted just four of 17 times. The biggest disappointment was the play of a veteran offensive line. The Vols had no running game, putting the game on the shoulders of quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who continues to struggle with intermediate throws. It was a bad matchup for Tennessee, but it’ll get another shot with perhaps some more favorable matchups in two weeks against Alabama.

*The Bulldogs took some punches early, but Georgia was as dominant in the second half against Tennessee as it was in the first half against Auburn, outscoring the Vols 27-0 after the break to win going away. Stetson Bennett IV continues to show a command of this offense, and the emergence of Kearis Jackson as not just a No. 2 receiver but perhaps a No. 1 target has been the missing piece that we wondered about all summer. The young offensive line has played well so far, as the ‘Dawgs ran for 193 yards on Saturday and allowed just one sack. This team should be brimming with confidence heading to Tuscaloosa.

*What has happened to the Air Raid? After putting up 44 points and 632 yards on LSU, Mississippi State’s has managed just 14 points in the last two games. The Bulldogs’ only points in Saturday night’s 24-2 loss at Kentucky came, obviously, from the defense, on a safety. Arkansas’ defense is average. Kentucky’s defense is pretty good. But 14 points in 120 minutes? This was the concern for skeptics of Mike Leach in the SEC. The defenses are fast enough to sit back in zone and tackle the catch, taking away passing windows and bogging down the offense. With Arkansas, Missouri and Ole Miss all generating buzz, it’s safe to say that the SEC new hire with the most questions at this point is Leach. Who would have thought that after Week 1?

*Back to Florida for a minute. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s Achilles’ heel has been third downs, going all the way back to his arrival in major college football at Georgia in 2010. Texas A&M converted 12 of 15 third downs on Saturday, a truly awful performance from a Florida defense that has struggled in all three games this seasons. The defensive backs aren’t making plays. There’s no great pass rusher. The interior of the defense has been pushed around in the running game. The Gators’ offense is good enough to carry this team, but the defense needs to be at least an average group for Florida to contend for a championship. Right now, they’re far from average, and not in a good way.

*The day was so busy that we’ve gone this long without even mentioning the defending national champions falling to 1-2 after a defensive meltdown, deemed “embarrassing” by head coach Ed Orgeron, in a 45-41 LSU loss to Missouri. It was a challenging week for LSU with having to unexpectedly travel to Missouri due to Hurricane Delta, but that’s no excuse for allowing a team that had scored just 31 points in its first two games to put up 586 yards, repeatedly busting LSU’s coverages. That’s two miserable performances in three weeks from Bo Pelini’s defense. There doesn’t seem to be much confidence, and the LSU defenders don’t look like they’re having fun. Matt Canada was a one-and-done coordinator on the offensive side in Baton Rouge in 2017, and Pelini appears to be trending in that direction.

*Aside from Leach, it was a great day for the other three new head coaches, despite Missouri’s Eliah Drinkwitz being the only one to record a win. Arkansas’ Sam Pittman has quickly turned the Razorbacks into a team that will compete every week aside from games with Georgia and probably Alabama. The 1-2 Hogs are competent and well-coached. Lane Kiffin has the most exciting team in the country, and despite his defense being a sieve, his Rebels have pushed both Florida and Alabama by going over 600 yards against both teams. Drinkwitz made the right call to switch quarterbacks last week, as redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak has been excellent in seven quarters so far. In a year with the odds thought to be stacked against the new guys due to COVID-related restrictions in the offseason, the opposite appears to be true through three weeks.

*You probably didn’t notice, but South Carolina played Vanderbilt on Saturday on a rainy day in Nashville. The Gamecocks won easily, handling the Commodores a second straight 41-7 home defeat and registering its first win of the season. South Carolina is serviceable. They’re not particularly good or particularly exciting, but they’re a physical team, and have a great chance for a big home win next week against sputtering Auburn. There isn’t much to say about Vanderbilt. All hope from a competitive loss to Texas A&M in Week 1 is now gone. Nobody seems to care. It’s a complete mess.

Around The Nation
*Check out this drive from Navy. Leading Temple 28-23 with 14 minutes to play, the Mids held the ball for more than nine minutes, but managed just 25 yards. Despite the inefficiency, Navy made it to field-goal range, and Bijan Nichols’ conversion provided the winning points after Temple went on to miss a game-tying two-point conversion attempt following a touchdown. Navy 31, Temple 29. Here were the yards gained on the 15-play, nine-minute drive: 2, 5, 6, 4, 2, 1, 5, 2, 4, 3, 2, 4, -5, -9. 13 running plays and one sack. 25 total yards. That’s how you run clock.

*It wasn’t the battle for first place that we assumed it would be, but the Red River Showdown was a perfect microcosm of the entire Big 12 season to date. After seeing a late 31-17 lead slip away, Oklahoma outlasted Texas in four overtimes, 53-45. The nearly five-hour game was a beautiful mess, as the teams combined for 21 penalties and a slew of special teams mistakes, including both teams missing short field goals in the third overtime. Both the Sooners and Longhorns now sit at 2-2 overall and 1-2 in Big 12 play. They’ll need to win their final six games to have any hopes of a conference title, but there are major concerns about both teams. The Big 12 title race is going to be awesome, but it looks like it’s going to be between Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Saturday’s annual in Dallas was a chance for one blueblood team to right the ship and build some momentum for a late-season surge. Oklahoma got the win, but neither team showed any signs of an upcoming surge.

*The Miami-Clemson game played out like every other “big” ACC game for the Tigers over the past few years. The Hurricanes didn’t belong on the same stage as the five-time defending conference champions, as the Tigers rolled to a 42-17 win with a 550-210 total yards advantage. Miami hung around into the third quarter after returning a blocked field goal for a touchdown on the final play of the first half to cut the lead to 21-10, but the visitors never threated on a rainy night in Death Valley. Neither North Carolina nor Notre Dame looked particularly dominant in wins over Virginia Tech and Florida State, so the ‘Canes still look like a very viable ACC Championship Game and New Year’s Six bowl candidate. On Saturday night, however, they were no different than every other ACC team over the past few years who has been given a chance of going toe-to-toe with mighty Clemson.

*It was a rollercoaster night for Pitt kicker Alex Kessman. With his team trailing Boston College 24-21 in the final seconds, Kessman drilled a 58-yard field goal that would have been good from 68 yards to send the game to overtime. The Eagles scored a touchdown in the top half of the first overtime, but Pitt answered on a Kenny Pickett touchdown pass. Kessman’s extra point would have forced a second overtime, but he pushed the kick wide right, and Boston College improved to 3-1 after the 31-30 victory The Panthers dropped their second straight game to fall to 3-2. Sports are cruel sometimes.

A Peek at Next Week
The Big One
No. 3 Georgia at No. 2 Alabama, 8 p.m. ET (CBS)
My brain will be a pendulum all week trying to analyze this game. Is Alabama’s defense as bad as it looked against Ole Miss, or will Nick Saban take over the defense this week and help deliver a bounceback performance? Will Georgia’s defense contain this Crimson Tide offense, or will it suffer the same fate it did against Joe Burrow and LSU in last season’s SEC Championship Game? The ‘Dawgs and Tide delivered two classics in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and we should expect nothing less on Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Don’t Miss
Kentucky at No. 18 Tennessee, Noon ET (SEC Network)
Ole Miss at Arkansas, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
LSU at No. 10 Florida, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Flip Around
No. 15 BYU at Houston (Friday), 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
No. 8 Cincinnati at Tulsa, Noon ET (ESPN2)
UCF at Memphis, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
No. 7 Oklahoma State at Baylor, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Boston College at No. 23 Virginia Tech, 8 p.m. ET (ACC 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.