It was a good Saturday. Missouri won and Georgia won. (Georgia gave me a heart attack in the 2nd half). So, going forward we need (a) Georgia to beat Auburn and Kentucky or (b) Florida to beat South Carolina ... and, then (c) Missouri to beat Kentucky and at least split between Ole Miss and A&M. If neither (a) or (b) happen, we need to win all 3 remaining games and go 11-1 to win the SEC-East. Sheesh. Not an easy task.
Below are our views on all the games, Gus Malzahn’s deteriorating reputation, possible BCS title tilts, why Florida’s program isn’t all it’s crack up to be, and all the good and bad from across the league as we transition from Week Ten to Week Eleven.
South Carolina 34, Mississippi State 16 (Our prediction: South Carolina 34-20)
For Mississippi State to upset Carolina, we stated in our Game Previews that the Dogs — so good in turnover margin going into the game — would need to once again protect the ball while forcing Gamecock mistakes. Instead, State turned it over five times as Dak Prescott threw three INTs and fumbled once. (He might have had more pressing issues on his mind as his mother passed away the following morning due to cancer.) While Prescott was struggling, Connor Shaw was thriving. USC’s quarterback tossed four touchdown passes against zero picks — the Gamecocks didn’t turn the ball over once — as Steve Spurrier’s team built a 34-10 third-quarter lead and coasted to its seventh victory in nine games. Mike Davis added 128 yards on the ground including a pair of 40+ yard runs. The Cocks now get an open date before hosting Florida. A win in that game will put some serious pressure on Missouri in the East Division race. As for State, the Bulldogs will need to win two of their final four games (at Texas A&M, Alabama, at Arkansas, Ole Miss) to go bowling.
Georgia 23, Florida 20 (Our prediction: Georgia 24-17)
Credit Florida’s defense for stifling Georgia in the second half and finding a way to cut a 23-3 halftime lead into a 23-20 barn burner. When all was said and done, however, Mike Bobo’s offense had muscled out six first downs in a clock-killing drive that ate up the final eight minutes and 17 seconds. Despite a nice charge in the second half, UF fell to just 4-4 on the season and Will Muschamp still needs two wins from his last four (against Vanderbilt, at Carolina, and then against Georgia Southern and Florida State) to become bowl eligible… and that’s just not acceptable to Gator fans. If not for a controversial decision to rule a Georgia pass as a lateral and a fumble, UGA might have won going away. Instead they were forced to show grit and the man showing the most grit was the guy who returned to action this week — Todd Gurley. The Georgia back was clearly less than 100% but you’d never know it from looking at his numbers. Seventeen carries for 100 yards and a touchdown. Three catches for 87 yards including a 73-yard catch and run. Not bad for a guy with a bum ankle.
Auburn 35, Arkansas 17 (Our prediction: Auburn 44-27)
Auburn has had four different players rush for 100 yards in a game this season. On Saturday night in Fayetteville, there was little need for a run-game rotation. Tre Mason was given a career-high 32 carries and he made the most of them, tallying 168 yards and four touchdowns. The Tigers — up to #9 in the BCS standings — next take their one-loss record to Tennessee. It’s still quite possible Auburn and Alabama might meet in the Iron Bowl with just one loss between them. Arkansas, meanwhile, continues to struggle. Bret Bielema’s career-long five-game losing streak is now a career-long six-game losing streak. The frustrated coach used trick plays, an onside kick attempt and even a swinging gate play — that he said had nothing to do with the Bielema/Malzahn snit, ya right — but it made no difference. Arkansas is now 3-6 overall and 0-5 in the SEC with games remaining against Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU. On paper, it looks like the loser of the Arkansas/MSU game will end their season in the cellar of the SEC West.
Missouri 31, Tennessee 3 (Our prediction: Missouri 38-24)
Anyone still doubting Mizzou’s SEC credentials should pick up a phone and call someone from the Volunteer State. Tennessee has not lost its first two meetings with the Tigers and Saturday night they went down just as hopelessly as Davy Crockett at the Alamo. Missouri punished the Vols on the ground 339 to 94. Quarterback Maty Mauk led the way with 114 yards. And Gary Pinkel’s receivers managed to find paydirt three times themselves. The Tigers are physical in the trenches and speedy at the skill positions. As we said even after their loss last week to South Carolina, this bunch is for real. Tennessee is really thin and really slow. Freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs showed promise, but he got little help from those around him. UT’s lack of speed at every level of the defense was exposed. In fact, the Volunteers’ most valuable player — and he’s been their best weapon all year — was kicker/punter Michael Palardy. Playing with a bad back the senior dropped a pair of punts inside MU’s five and he hit a 51-yard field goal to prevent a shutout.
Kentucky 48, Alabama State 14 (Our prediction: Kentucky 41-13)
Mark Stoops got what he wanted. Last week he said it would be a nice change if for once his starting quarterback could play well enough — and stay healthy long enough — to leave the field in good circumstances. Jalen Whitlow turned the trick. He was 16-of-26 passing for 186 yards and two scores. he also ran 10 times for 101 yards and two more TDs. Sure it was against Alabama State, but at 1-6, you take what you can get. The Cats got their second victory of the season and now they’ll wrap up the season trying to play spoiler against Missouri, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Tennessee. It’s still technically possible for UK to achieve bowl eligibility status, but let’s not kid ourselves. Instead, the shorthanded Wildcats must focus on costing Missouri and/or Georgia a slice of the East title and knocking Vandy and/or Tennessee out of bowl contention.
Texas A&M 57, UTEP 7 (Our prediction: Texas A&M 62-17)
Last week Kevin Sumlin said he thought receiver Mike Evans should get some Heisman pub. That’ll be tough with Evans’ quarterback putting up Heisman numbers once again. Johnny Manziel’s stat line from Saturday once again read like something from the NCAA ’14 video game. The redshirt sophomore completed 16-of-24 passes for 273 yards and four touchdowns while adding 67 more yards on the ground with two more scores. Laughably, Sumlin bemoaned the fact that his team “started uncharacteristically slow for whatever reason.” So what woke the Aggies up as they led just 9-7 after a quarter? Manziel called his offensive brethren together and provided what receiver Travis Labhart called “a leadership speech.” It certainly worked. Texas A&M’s defense had its best outing of the season against the 1-7 Miners from El Paso. They allowed just seven points and a scant 198 yards to UTEP. They forced four turnovers as well.
The Yo-Yo Florida Program Continues To, Well, Yo-Yo
Florida football is not all that it’s cracked up to be. And we’re not just talking about this season. While the nation’s talking heads and columnists view the Gator program as one of the tippy-top best in America, the on-field performance has been up-and-down since the end of Steve Spurrier’s reign in 2001. First came Ron Zook who went 8-5, 8-5 and 7-4 in Gainesville before being fired. Rather than bring back the unemployed Ball Coach — Spurrier famously told him to check the Gator trophy case if he wanted to see his resume — Foley nabbed Urban Meyer. UF went 9-3 in Meyer’s first year, then won the national crown at 13-1 in 2006. The Gators fell to 9-4 in Meyer’s third year before rebounding with two more 13-1 seasons and one more BCS title. Meyer’s last Gator club finished 8-5. Sprinkled in between were a head-scratching number of arrests, a resignations, one un-resignation, and a “really, this time I mean it” resignation. Enter Will Muschamp, the hottest head coaching prospect in the country. But the game of “Chutes and Ladders” has continued. Florida was 7-6 in Year One, 11-2 in Year Two, but now sits at just 4-4 in Year Three. Zook’s record in Gainesville was 23-14. Muschamp’s is 22-12. A big picture look at the past dozen years reveals that Florida has lost four or more games seven times. The flipside to Meyer’s two national championships has been four seasons of five or more losses (and this year is looking like it will be #5 on that list). Florida has a tremendous recruiting base and a massive budget. There’s no denying that. There’s no ignoring two national championships in a three-year span, either. But five seasons of five or more losses in a 12-year period? Nope. The Gators aren’t the bully on the block that they’re made out to be.
Oregon Or Florida State? Give Us The Ducks!
Florida State’s blowout win over Miami last weekend propelled the Seminoles up the BCS standings and ahead of Oregon. Too bad. Not that we at MrSEC.com have anything against Florida State — we think they should be in the SEC — but an Oregon/Alabama matchup at year’s end would be a whole lot more interesting than an FSU/Alabama matchup. (If, of course, Alabama reaches the BCS title game.) An Ducks/Tide battle would pit a program known for its offense against a program known for its defense. New School versus Old School. Flash versus Substance. East versus West. If Florida State and Alabama wind up in the Rose Bowl playing for the crystal football it could be a tremendous game, but where’s the storyline? Two schools with similar DNA from just 300 miles apart. Blah. Don’t know about you, but on this side of the computer screen we’re hoping for an Oregon/Alabama clash.
Malzahn The Rule-Bender
Last week, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema clued the whole world into the fact that Auburn had done a little illegal editing of the game tape they sent to the Razorbacks prior to last weekend’s game. Specifically, the Tigers had snipped a clip of a swinging gate play they had used the week prior against Florida Atlantic. It was a breach of league etiquette for the Hogs’ coach to talk about the edited in tape in public, but he got his point across. Saturday night in Auburn’s victory over Arkansas, it appeared that Malzahn’s troops were guilty of a little injury-faking, too. See for yourself:
Now, I’m not in that player’s body so I can’t definitively say that he wasn’t indeed injured. But it sure looked like he was faking. When questioned about the incident, Malzahn denied that his players would do that. It would be ironic since Malzahn himself has talked about teams faking injuries in order to slow his team’s no-huddle attack. Whether Auburn intentionally snipped game tape before swapping it and whether the Tigers faked an injury to halt play doesn’t really matter at this point. The feeling amongst most fans — at least those not on the Plains — is that Malzahn is running a rule-bending program. That may not be fair, but judging from the MrSEC.com email inbox that is the current lay of the land.