The SEC pretty much lived up to the hype this weekend. All I know is that as a Georgia fan, it was nice to kick back and watch the carnage involving the other teams. (Except for UAB-Arkansas, which nobody cares about anyway.)
- Mississippi State 45 Kentucky 31. In my last Power Poll ballot, I asked how the Bulldogs would handle success. It may not have been pretty at times, but they got the job done. It was something of a back and forth affair, as the teams combined for more than a thousand yards of offense, but you never really felt that Kentucky was on MSU’s level. Still, it took one of my favorite plays, a touchdown return on an onside kick (I hope Lou Holtz still remembers the one he served up in Athens) to put the game away for good. From a Georgia perspective, there are a couple of things to be concerned about. First, Danielson’s comparison of Patrick Towles to Ben Roethlisberger has some truth to it. He’s a big kid with a big arm who can run just well enough to be a pain in the ass. And Danielson made another good point picking up how well Stoops adjusts his defense after the offense makes its pre-snap read. That’s something Mason has to stay focused about. One the other hand, both of UK’s lines are inconsistent and they had no answer to MSU’s rushing game.
- Missouri 24 Vanderbilt 14. It is one of the bigger mysteries of the season, how this mediocre Missouri team is still in the hunt in the SEC East. But at 3-1 in the conference, there the Tigers are. Mauk stepped his game up from awful to merely average, so I suppose that’s something to build on. But I don’t see how this team can run the table on its schedule.
- LSU 10 Mississippi 7. So, they still can play some defense these days. This was a bruiser of a game, from start to finish. LSU finished minus-3 in turnover margin (minus-4 until the last nine seconds, if you want to be technical about it), whiffed on an easy field goal, fumbled in the red zone, had a joke of a downfield passing game and still came away with the win. Contrary to Herbstreit’s fixation, it wasn’t so much because the Ole Miss defense hadn’t faced a power running game as it was Bo Wallace picking a bad time not to show up. Plus, Hugh Freeze’s weird attempt to out-Les Les Miles after the timeout and run another play may not have been the smartest call in the world, given how his quarterback had played in the second half. Ole Miss’ defense is fabulous, but when the offense doesn’t show up, it’s simply not enough to win. And LSU’s having a heckuva rebuilding year.
- Auburn 42 South Carolina 35. Love him or hate him, you have to admire Steve Spurrier’s ability to craft a game plan and adjust during the game. He knew going in that his defense was seriously undermanned and that the only way he was going to steal a win on the road was to do everything he could to outscore the Tigers. And with a variety of moves – a terrifically executed onside kick, five of six fourth-down conversions and steady, aggressive playcalling on offense – he almost pulled it off. The problem was, as we’ve seen all season, his team just isn’t talented enough. Two interceptions in the end zone were killers. At this point, the ‘Cocks are playing for pride, and you know that’s a huge letdown for Spurrier. For Georgia, Auburn confirmed what Auburn’s about: it can run the ball better than anybody, its passing game is efficient, but there are holes on defense that can be exploited. Look for a shootout in Athens.
- Alabama 34 Tennessee 20. Hey, the Vols outscored the Tide in the second half. It’s a moral victory! That’s nice. But for some reason Butch Jones decided to start Nathan Peterman, who plays more like J. Peterman, and the defensive staff decided it wasn’t really necessary to focus on Amari Cooper, so there was the little problem of trying to dig out from under a 27-0 deficit first. If Cooper ever gets hurt, the Alabama offense is going to be in bad shape, because it looks like Junior doesn’t know how to call anyone else’s number (Cooper caught nine of Alabama’s fourteen completions).
At this point, the West remains one crazy-ass place. You can’t even say that LSU is out of it yet; the Tigers face the Tide, and if they somehow pull that off, they’ve still got a shot to win the division if a few more chips fall the right way. Auburn has Ole Miss, so there will be another two-loss team in the division after next weekend. The whole thing may come down to the last week of the season.
The East is a two-team race now, with Georgia in control of its destiny. That worked out just fine in 2011 and 2012, but 2014 is turning out to be too weird a year to get comfortable yet. Hang on.