Will Moon's Deep Football Thoughts from Outer Space: Week Six Recap
A week that looked pretty sedate going in turned into a bit of a wild one on us as the day went on, with a couple of top ten squads going down at home to less-heralded conference foes and mighty Alabama actually being pushed a little bit by Texas A&M. Auburn, meanwhile, took care of business big-time in the first half, but did let off the gas a little in the second. But considering what happened to, say, Oklahoma, maybe we should just be happy with the win. Let's dive in.
Yes, it was somewhat a tale of two halves for the Tigers Saturday afternoon. Auburn came roaring out of the gate on offense, rolling up 35 points on their first five possessions. Kerryon Johnson continues to be Mr. Touchdown as he found the end zone three times during a 204-yard effort. Jarrett Stidham also tossed two touchdown passes, one a 75-yard catch-and-run on a bubble screen to Ryan Davis (which featured excellent blocking from Austin Golson, Casey Dunn, Nate Craig-Myers, and Will Hastings to free Davis for the score), and the other a beautiful throw to Darius Slayton on a fade route early in the second quarter. Stidham "only" completed 14-21 passes this week, down from his lofty numbers against Mercer, Missouri, and Mississippi State, but he and the offense as a whole were still pretty sharp.
Defensively, it was a bit of a different story. Ole Miss came out running their offense as quickly as possible, and it seemed to put the Tiger defense on the back foot a little bit. We knew going in that Rebel QB Shea Patterson was the real deal even if his team wasn't, and the Ole Miss signal-caller played pretty well overall. His statline ended up reading 34-51 for 346 yards and two touchdowns, with a lot of that production coming after halftime. The Landshark offense (LOL) came out quick, driving for 49 yards on their opening possession (which ended in a missed FG) and then driving 65 yards on their second (which ended in a made FG). Kevin Steele's defense seemed to regain their swagger a little from there, as the Rebels didn't score again in the first half. The second half, though, was a different story.
Watching the second half unfold, I knew much of the discussion of the game would boil down to grumpy fans being grumpy about Auburn allowing Ole Miss to score 20 points and cut the lead to 44-23. Look at the national and regional recaps, and nobody seems to be mentioning what happened in garbage time, but a lot of Tiger fans seemed to fixate on it. To be fair, Gus Malzahn, perhaps sensing a let down coming, straight up told the SEC Network's sideline reporter that he wanted to make sure the team stayed focused in the second half and that didn't happen. Honestly, I really don't care. I think both teams more-or-less got what they wanted from that half with just a couple of exceptions. There were serious questions about Ole Miss' effort at Alabama two Saturdays ago, and I think Matt Luke quite reasonably tried everything he could to keep his kids invested in this one. The uptempo offense was a smart move, and coaching the second half like it was the Super Bowl allows his kids to build on some positive results out of this. It may not seem like much (they still got waxed), but when you're dealing with college-age players, anything like that can make a huge difference when you're trying to keep a team together (especially one that's already been through the kind of offseason and season the Rebels have).
For Auburn, they were able to empty the bench on defense, and it was mostly third-teamers out there playing against Ole Miss' 1s at the end, which helped the Rebels to a couple of scores in the 4th quarter. There were some mildly concerning things offensively, though. The first-team unit played all the way into the 4th quarter, with Kerryon Johnson still piling up carries. KJ seemed healthier in this game than he has since the opener, but I'd still like to see him not exposed to extra hits if possible. I get that Malzahn and Chip Lindsey (who called a pretty great game Saturday) wanted Stidham and the rest of the starters to end on a crisp note, but it seemed like they were still calling a real conservative offense with the 1s out there, thus lowering the chances of a crisp finish. I didn't mind the drive where Stidham and Malik Willis rotated at all, though, as I could see a use for a wildcat package with Willis running with the starters at some point in the future. The late injury to Mike Horton, though, is worthy of concern, and that'll segue us into some injury talk.
Bubba Pettway sat this one out, with Gus saying that he didn't think having him play a little (like he did against State) was working. Smart move, and it'd be super nice to have KJ and Bubba both healthy when November rolls around. Javaris Davis also sat this one out, which could have contributed to some of the apparent confusion Ole Miss was able to create in Auburn's defensive backfield in this game. Tre Williams came off the bench to play some for the first time in a couple of weeks, but reaggravated his injury. That's not great, but the Auburn LBs have played well in his stead. CB Jamel Dean, who's quickly becoming a key cog in the Tiger defense, also left with a late injury. I'm not sure how severe any of these are, and I know we won't hear much from the coaches on this front. But let's hope most of these guys can get back out there at LSU. Again, though, Horton is the one I'm watching. Early indications seem to point to him being fine, but I'd love for Austin Golson to be able to stick at LT, with Horton, Casey Dunn, Braden Smith, and Darius James able to remain at their current spots. I like Prince Tega Wanogho's upside as much as anyone, but he's still a work-in-progress right now, and a trip to Baton Rouge to visit Arden Key could be a problem for him if he has to start at LT (with Golson at LG). I'd prefer Golson to be matched up with a guy like that at this juncture of the season.
Auburn mostly took care of business Saturday, and again, you need only look at what happened to Oklahoma and Michigan (more on them later) to see how acceptable this 21-point win is. I know coaches are always grumpy and unsatisfied, and coaches will get on a team for allowing the opponent to score like that in garbage time. But they're coaches, and fans are fans. Fans should be good with the win.
Final note on the game, congratulations to Daniel Carlson, who became the SEC's all-time leading scorer in the second half Saturday. That's really cool, and one of the best records a kicker can achieve. He's missed a few kicks this year, but never forget how big a weapon Legatron is and has been for the Tigers.
Around the SEC
Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate
Now that we're in October, some separation's starting to take place behind the conference's big three. This week, Ed Orgeron took a big step toward getting off the hotseat, while Bret Bielema poured gasoline on his. And what about Jim McElwain? Lots to break down, so let's get to the rankings. (Again and as always, these rankings are based on objective factors as much as possible, but we're getting to the point now where they line up pretty well with what you see in more mainstream polls.)
1. Georgia Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0) - Kirby Smart's Bulldogs rolled into Nashville (their second home-away-from-home game so far this season) and smacked around poor Vanderbilt 45-14. Not surprisingly, Nick Chubb (16 carries for 138 yards and 2 TDs) and Sony Michel (12 carries for 150 yards and 1 TD) led the way as UGa rushed for 423 yards as a team. Again, the Dawgs' wins over Notre Dame and Mississippi State just edge them past Bama for the top spot, but the Tide appear to be a touch better on paper. The main difference (and I think the main concern for Georgia when the trip to Auburn rolls around) is how little freshman QB Jake Fromm has had to do in these wins. He was 7-11 Saturday for 102 yards and 2 scores, and that's the kind of statline he's logged most every week. If he needs to step up and shoulder the load against a better team, will he be able to do it? We almost certainly won't find out this week, as hapless Missouri visits Sanford Stadium (6:30 CT on SEC Network).
2. Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0) - After two comical beatdowns over Vandy and Ole Miss, Bammer was pushed a little bit by Texas A&M Saturday night. Sure, it was 24-3 late in the 3rd quarter, but the Aggies really competed with the Tide for long stretches of the game, the first time we've seen anybody do that since Florida State kinda held up against Bama for a while in the opener. RB Damien Harris was the standout here, with 124 yards on 14 carries, including a 75-yard touchdown that set an early tone for the game. Jalen Hurts had a solid, if unspectacular, game, throwing for 123 yards and a touchdown and running for 56 more yards and another score. Again, on paper, the Tahd are still almost certainly the league's best team, and it was a day for favorites nationwide to labor a little bit, but they didn't finish this game like they would've liked and I'm sure Nick Saban's gonna let 'em hear about it all week. A dead Arkansas team visits the Capstone this week (6:15 CT on ESPN).
3. Auburn Tigers (5-1, 3-0) - Mostly covered Auburn's win above, so let's look ahead, shall we? The Tigers visit LSU this Saturday (2:30 CT on CBS). All trips to Death Valley are potentially perilous, so I'm curious to see how Auburn reacts as clear favorites in a road environment like that. And of course, how into this are LSU fans going to be after the ups-and-downs of the last two weeks? A visit to Arkansas follows, and again, that team looks dead in the water right now (and they'll have just played Alabama). After taking a well-timed bye, Auburn then visits Aggieland, and that one certainly looks trickier now, especially with a mega-tilt with Georgia right behind it. This won't be a cakewalk, but Auburn certainly has the team to make it through this stretch of road games. And right now, of the big three teams, which QB do you want when push comes to shove? Stidham, Hurts, or Fromm? Food for thought.
4. Texas A&M Aggies (4-2, 2-1) - Am I overrating the Aggies on the strength of a close-ish loss? Uh, maybe, but somebody's got to go here. If you break it down, Kevin Sumlin's squad has played one really awful quarter at UCLA. They were ugly in two walkover wins the subsequent weeks, but they still got those wins. Then they've come alive in conference play. If I'm bullish on anything they've got right now, it's the emergence of QB Kellen Mond. We knew he was a big talent coming out of high school (Auburn recruited him heavily), but he was a deer in the headlights in those first two or three games. The game seems to be slowing down for him some now, and the tremendous skill position talent that A&M always has is helping him become a threat throwing the ball (Christian Kirk anyone?). If John Chavis can continue to develop his defense, this Aggie squad has a shot at a 9-win season. They visit the Swamp this week (6 CT on ESPN2). I'm curious to see how they respond after the loss to Bama.
5. Kentucky Wildcats (5-1, 2-1) - Oh, that choke job against Florida looks even worse now. Mark Stoops' Wildcats may be the kings of playing down to their competition, but they've managed to scratch out five mostly ugly wins already, making a bowl berth practically a certainty. Sure, they may have needed some trademark crappy SEC officiating to do it, but UK is still in "a win is a win" mode as a program. I have them at five for now, but I really don't see them beating Mississippi State, who I still expect to surge back up to four or five on this list by the end of the season. But UK is poised for what very well should be at least an 8-win season. Years like that can't be taken for granted up on the bluegrass. The 'Cats are off this week before that aforementioned battle with State, which takes place in Starkville this year.
6. South Carolina Gamecocks (4-2, 2-2) - One of the big out-of-the-way results of the week was South Carolina's 48-22 demolition of Arkansas in Columbia on Saturday. Cocky scored three defensive touchdowns in the second half to blow the game open, and now sit at 4-2 halfway through their season. The offense is still a bit of an issue with Deebo Samuel out for the year, but Will Muschamp's team has been opportunistic so far this season, finding ways to pick up key wins at home, away, and at a neutral site. Looking at the remainder of their schedule, the visit to Georgia and the home date with rival Clemson look like Ls, but every other game is winnable, starting with this week's trip to Rocky Top (11 CT on ESPN). An 8-win season would be huge for Boom in year two.
7. Mississippi State Bulldogs (3-2, 1-2) - State took a much-needed bye week after being thrashed by Georgia and Auburn in their two previous games. I still think very highly of this team, but have them lingering down here at seven because their only win over a Power Five school so far is that romp over LSU back in week three. I think the three teams ahead of State on this list are all playing well and should be commended for their work (and for what their coaches are doing), but I really do feel like State is better than all of them, they just haven't had enough chances to show it. A terrible BYU team visits Starkvegas this week (11 CT on SEC Network), before back-to-back key conference dates with Kentucky and A&M.
8. LSU Tigers (4-2, 1-1) - Ed Orgeron and his team were able to relieve some of the considerable tension around Red Stick this week after pulling off an ugly yet crucial win at the Swamp (a game that may say more about Florida than it does LSU). It is notable that Matt Canada's predilection for lots of shifting and motion in his offense seemed to return this week after some apparent conflicts with Orgeron in previous weeks. Was that the difference-maker? Not really. I think the real difference maker was LSU's defense playing with passion for the first time in a while (and Florida's trash QB situation). But given the mood around the program after the loss to Troy, this road win over Florida (with all the off-field sniping between those schools) was monstrous. Up next is a home date with Auburn (2:30 CT on CBS), who is far and away the best team LSU has played. Now we'll see if things really are turned around.
9. Florida Gators (3-2, 3-1) - All the goodwill that Jim McElwain and his Gators had built up in kitchen sink wins over Tennessee, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt went by the boards with this loss to LSU. I think many a Gator fan was having dreams of the team just getting to their bye week with only one loss before making whatever magic adjustments Florida always seems to make before playing Georgia. That was the dream, but it was dashed by an ugly effort against a mediocre LSU squad Saturday. With Luke Del Rio out for the year and Malik Zaire apparently completely off the table as an option at QB, Feleipe Franks looks like the only option for UF under center and he just isn't ready for this yet. What's amazing is how much the Gator ground game has come on the last couple of weeks, and yet they still can't find a consistent offense. When even a strong rushing attack can't buoy your O against mediocre opposition, you know your QB situation is in the pooper. The chances of the Gators carrying consecutive losses into their bye are high with an improving Texas A&M squad visiting the Swamp this week (6 CT on ESPN2).
10. Tennessee Volunteers (3-2, 0-2) - Mercifully, UT didn't play this past week, and down here amongst the dregs, not playing is sometimes the easiest way to move up the rankings. Butch Jones is still the head man on Rocky Top, but each passing week makes his continued employment dicier and dicier. With the schedule the Vols have remaining, a bowl berth is no sure thing as traditionally easy wins over teams like South Carolina, Kentucky, and Vandy look like potential losses this year. In fact, SCar visits Neyland Stadium this week (11 CT on ESPN), with big bad Bammer on the schedule afterward. A loss to Cocky could be the thing that finally pushes Jones out, but a win would at least give the team a huge boost towards postseason play. Either way, get ready for one of the all-time best things in college football, Tennessee fans desperately, sadly believing that Jon Gruden will be their next head coach.
11. Vanderbilt Commodores (3-3, 0-3) - Another week, another conference L for Vandy. The promise of that win over Kansas State a few weeks ago has evaporated in the face of home beatdowns from Bama and Georgia sandwiched around a road loss at Florida. The Commodores were physically manhandled yet again by UGa on Saturday, as they were outrushed 423-64. But never mind all that. The season for Derek Mason and his boys starts now. There are wins out their for the 'Dores to get, starting this week at Ole Miss (2:30 CT on SEC Network). (Mercifully, a bye week follows.) This team can still reach a bowl game and has a solid shot at wins over rivals like Tennessee and Kentucky. The question is can Mason get their heads back into the game after these three straight losses? That'll be what decides what kind of year this ends up being for Vandy.
12. Arkansas Razorbacks (2-3, 0-2) - What has just been a dreadful year for the Piggies continued Saturday with an embarrassing 48-22 blowout loss at middling South Carolina. This is year five for Bret Bielema, and there's just no excuse for his team to be this bad. In a world where coaches are almost immediately placed on the hot seat, Arky has given ol' Bert plenty of chances to succeed. To be rewarded with this is mystifying. There just really isn't an excuse. The Hogs are poor defensively, but also lack either physicality or explosiveness on offense. A Bielema team lacking physicality is a real head-scratcher, but there it is in black-and-white, the Sausage only averaged 3.3 yards per carry at SCar. And things don't get any easier from here. A trip to Bammer this week (6:15 CT on ESPN) is followed by a visit from Auburn next week. The Hogs are staring 2-5 straight in the face. The schedule eases enough afterward to keep a bowl game in the cards, but this just isn't good enough for Bielema at Arkansas, not good enough at all.
13. Ole Miss Rebels (2-3, 0-2) - The best thing you can say about Saturday was that Ole Miss didn't quit. That ain't much, but it could be enough to keep this season from spiraling completely out of control for Matt Luke. With no bowl game to go to and the high-profile and embarrassing dismissal of Hugh Freeze before the season, the Rebels' mindset going into this season was an open question. They looked disinterested during their blowout loss at Alabama, so going uptempo on offense and almost forcing the team to care more was a smart move from the coaching staff. I don't know what goals are realistically out there for the Landsharks to achieve this year, but whatever they are, they probably involve beating Vanderbilt. The Commodores visit the Grove this Saturday (2:30 CT on SEC Network). A loss here could send the Rebels' season straight into the Phantom Zone.
14. Missouri Tigers (1-4, 0-3) - If the Rebels do reach the Phantom Zone, they may find Mizzou already there. A bad season got worse with a controversial loss at Kentucky Saturday, with the refs contributing to the Tigers' misery. Missouri is godawful, and this week's visit to Georgia (6:30 CT on SEC Network) should only serve to highlight that further. Likely 1-5 when they return home, the Tigers then face consecutive non-conference opponents, starting with a visit from Idaho. If they can win that, a circling of the wagons could take place. I don't know how likely this is, but there aren't any world-beaters left on Mizzou's schedule after UGa, so if they can just survive this week, they'll have some kind of shot to make a run late in the season and maybe ease some of the pressure on Barry Odom. But they've got to get a whole lot better first.
Calling All Stations
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I gotta say, I'm a little surprised at how 'meh' the reaction has been to Iowa State's road win at Oklahoma. The Cyclones rolled into Norman with a backup quarterback, and he torched the Sooners all afternoon long. No one anywhere saw this coming, and an OU team that may have been sporting the best win in the country now finds itself out of the top ten. This was an especially damaging loss for the Big 12, which now looks like the most likely league to be left holding the bag come playoff selection time. (This would the third time in four years if it happens). Maybe the general unpredictability of the Big 12 and eroding confidence in the Sooners over the years has contributed to everyone's ho-hum reaction.
Elsewhere in that conference, TCU outlasted West Virginia in a pretty solid game. The Horned Frogs are now carrying the water for the league, but they still have road dates with Kansas State, now-feisty Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech. I'm not putting any money on an undefeated team emerging from that league this year.
The other top ten squad that went down at home was somewhat less of a surprise. Michigan State and Mark Dantonio reminded the Big Ten that they hadn't gone anywhere with a 14-10 win at Michigan in a driving rainstorm. While it was yet another huge, unexpected road win for Sparty, the bigger question has to be why can't Jim Harbaugh develop a more consistent offense? This is year three, and they still look like an old, ugly Big Ten team with little to nothing coming from the QB position. That shouldn't happen.
Another fun game from Saturday was Miami's thrilling win at Florida State. The two teams played pretty poorly in the first half, but the game went nutso in the second half, with several 4th quarter lead changes. Both QBs seemed to really grow up in this game, and Mark Richt broke through with a signature win for his Canes. (Also, the Canes know how to rock'n'roll.) Miami now has several winnable games on the schedule until Virginia Tech and Notre Dame visit in consecutive weeks in November. I don't know if they can challenge Clemson in the ACC, but the decision for Georgia to move on from Richt and bring in Kirby Smart, thus allowing Richt to return to his alma mater, seems to have been a win for everyone involved. Sometimes, a shakeup like that is what's needed to rejuvenate a coach or a program.
Massacre Island Recap
Massacres are becoming fewer and further between these days, but we still had room for a few this past weekend. Friday night saw Memphis hang 70 on UConn in their own house. Rhett Lashlee's offense put up 31, yet the team still lost by 39. Also in the American Athletic Conference, Tulsa is somehow bad enough to allow Tulane to roll up 62 points on them.
Vanderbilt's got several schools' cleat prints still on them, with Georgia's now the freshest after Saturday. Also remember when Maryland won at Texas and that was a big deal? The Terps got housed 62-14 by Ohio State Saturday. They've won at Texas and Minnesota, but have been crushed by Ohio State (understandable) and Central Florida (less understandable). They may be this year's most Jekyll-and-Hyde team. And what to say about Kansas? The Jayhawks extended run of horrible-ness continued with a 65-19 home spanking at the hands of Texas Tech. They're Massacre Island Premier Members.
Let's Get Ready to Rumble
Fisticuffs seem to break out in and around these games every week, with Florida already having had an incident during their loss to Michigan at the beginning of the season. The Gators' punchy season continued Saturday with this tailgate fight that took place before the team lost to LSU. I'm sure everyone was calm and collected after the game.
Also from the Swamp Saturday, these Florida fans seemed ready to throw down with the entire LSU band due to what LSU said was a miscommunication during Florida's pre-planned Tom Petty tribute. (Petty was from Gainesville, and may the man rest in peace. He was a true rock'n'roller and a Southern gentleman.) It was a cool tribute to Petty that seems like it'll be a regular fixture at Florida games from now on, but I'll let you decide whether there was a miscommunication on the part of LSU's band. Considering the state of the rivalry between those schools right now, it's up in the air, and LSU's band has been involved in more incidents in the past than any band should. (Though that example was almost certainly Damon Duval's fault.)
Let's hope Daniel Carlson and the rest of Auburn's team avoids LSU's band this week, and let's also hope that the orange-and-blue Tigers leave Death Valley with nothing to fight about. Check back on Thursday for the preview column for week seven.