The SEC has the well-earned reputation of the fiercest league in all of American Rules Collegiate Tackle Football, and this weekend was proof positive of that point. Several conference games snatched the national spotlight this week, and the results were nothing short of explosive.
In the marquee game of the week in the SEC, 8th ranked LSU traveled to Sanford Stadium in Athens to take on the 9th ranked Georgia Bulldogs in a game that lived up to the hype. Both teams came into the game with impressive offensive execution early on this season, but neither team had faced a defense to speak of prior to the meeting last Saturday.
Georgia proved that they have the mettle to once again compete for the SEC crown after falling in last year's championship game against Alabama. In that game, the Dawgs fell just short of a trip to the BCSNCG, as a mismanaged clock at the end of the game ultimately kept Georgia five yards short of destiny. In a near repeat of that situation, UGA QB Aaron Murray had a shot at redemption with one last possession, his Bulldogs trailing LSU by four with moments left on the clock.
Murray used precision passing on his final drive after getting the ball back with around four minutes to go in the game. LSU had just snatched the lead on a TD after a drive that featured several accurate passes by Zach Mettenberger was capped with a Jeremy Hill eight yard TD run. But Murray would not be denied, needing only three minutes of the remaining four to find Justin Scott Wesley for a 25 yard strike for a TD to give Georgia the winning score.
Murray, who had previously worn the albatross of never winning the "big game," finished the contest with 298 yards on 20 completions with four TDs and one interception. Zach Mettenberger also had a great outing in his return to Athens, throwing for 372 yards and three TDs on the day. Despite the stables of prolific running backs, neither team had a 100 yard rusher in the game, with star Dawg RB Todd Gurley leaving the game in the first half with an injury.
The win puts Georgia in the driver's seat of the SEC East, as they need only a solid win over a struggling Florida program to all but salt away the undisputed lead for a chance at the SEC West winner. Things were not as rosy for LSU, as the SEC loss pushed them into contention for second place in the SEC West behind still-unbeaten Alabama. LSU does still control its own destiny, however, as LSU can win out to secure a probable rematch against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
In the other high-profile SEC contest this weekend, Alabama proved itself ready for prime time in a 25-0 dismantling of Ole Miss. While Bama's offensive struggles are well-documented, the Tide defense played angry, preventing the usually explosive Ole Miss offense from getting into a rhythm and dictating pace through their HUNH game plan.
The Tide offense continues to be a work in progress, as the offensive line and ground game struggled against an agile and athletic Rebel front. However, by the second half, Bama began to establish the running game following an injury to center Ryan Kelly. Chad Lindsay was workable in his place, and the ground attack flourished. RB TJ Yeldon finished the day with 121 yards rushing on 17 totes with a TD, and Kenyan Drake almost broke the century mark with 99 yards rushing with a TD. Both had long runs for touchdowns.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron continued to be a steady presence in the pocket, despite being knocked around by the Ole Miss defensive line and linebackers. He finished the night with 25 of 32 passing for 180 yards, though he did throw his second interception of the season, a pass that deflected off of the hands of TE Brian Vogler and into the arms of an awaiting Ole Miss defender. Special teams were again solid for Alabama.
Ole Miss had its high-octane offense snuffed out, less than a week after Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace's statements that the Rebels would "score some points" against the Bama defense. Though Ole Miss averaged over 400 yards a game in total offense prior to the match-up, the Bama defense held them to only 205 yards. Jeff Scott, who averaged more than 100 yards per game this season, was held in check and only ran for 28 yards on the day.
In other SEC action from the last weekend:
- Tennessee got the scare of the season after holding on to beat South Alabama by a score of 31-24. The Jaguars, in their first season of bowl eligibility, had a chance to tie the score late after pushing into Tennessee territory. But the drive was snuffed inside the UT 10, and the Vols dodged a bullet. Tennessee's defensive woes continued this week, as they gave up 392 yards to South Alabama. Vol QB Justin Worley went 20-of-36 for 204 yards with two TDs and three INTs. Rajion Neal carried the water for the Vols on the day, piling up 169 yards rushing on 25 totes with one touchdown.
- 12th ranked South Carolina needed a superhuman performance from running back Mike Davis to emerge with a win from its match-up with Central Florida, as the Gamecocks fell behind early, lost their starting quarterback and had to grind late to pull out the win. SC QB Connor Shaw went down with a shoulder injury in the first quarter, and at the half, the ‘Cocks trailed 10-0 to the Golden Knights. Davis, however, put the offense on his shoulders, lumbering for 150 yards on the ground in the second half alone. Davis finished the day with 167 yards on 26 carries with three TDs. Back-up QB Dylan Thompson put up great numbers in relief of Shaw, passing for 261 yards with one interception. Thompson also had several big play passes dropped by his receivers. South Carolina's defensive backfield was somewhat exposed by the Golden Knights, who threw for 358 yards passing in the contest. After seizing the second half lead, South Carolina still had to hold off a late run from UCF, as the Knights scored 15 in the final quarter.
- 10th ranked Texas A&M fought off a surprisingly stubborn Arkansas team, winning by a final of 45-33. Arkansas, beaten last weekend by Rutgers, appeared to have something to prove against aTm, and they took advantage of an especially porous aTm defense to stay in the game. However, Aggi QB John Manziel provided another electrifying performance with his improvised, school-yard-style of play, having his way with the Hawg defense. He finished with 261 yards passing with two TDs, once again using the size mismatch of Mike Evans versus the Arky secondary to his advantage. The Hawgs were only down 24-20 at the half thanks to a strong performance by returning starter at QB Brandon Allen, who threw for 282 yards and three TDs with two INTs. Freshman RB sensation Alex Collins got it done on the ground, picking up 116 yards and a touchdown in the losing effort.
- The Florida Gators, ranked at #20, brutalized unranked Kentucky with a quality defensive performance, holding the Wildcats to a mere 173 yards of total offense on the day en route to a 24-7 victory. The Gators had Kentucky's offense completely flustered and ineffective, as the lone Wildcat score came on a fake FG attempt. Florida QB Tyler Murphy, in his first collegiate start, was workmanlike in his performance, throwing for 156 yards and a touchdown with one interception. While not eye-popping statistically, the Gators were pleased to have steady play in the pocket, and the Gators were able to keep turnovers at a minimum. Florida running back Matt Jones had a break-out game, victimizing the Kentucky defense for 176 yards with a touchdown. Florida moved the ball well for most of the game, even though several potential scoring drives stalled. Kentucky was led by QB Max Smith's 90 yards passing with an interception.
- Mizzou remained one of only two unbeaten SEC teams following a 41-19 win over Arkansas State this weekend. Mizzou has been impressive on offense during the four week out-of-conference schedule, and this week was no different. Tiger QB James Franklin had an efficient performance, throwing for 255 yards and three touchdowns on the day. The Tigers continued their balanced offensive attack, as RB Russell Hansbrough had another great game, picking up 96 yards on only eight carries. Mizzou put up a total of 495 yards of offense, and they did so with impressive balance (239 yards rushing vs. 256 yards passing). The game was close at the half, with the Tigers clinging to a one point lead. However, in the fourth quarter, Mizzou hit pay dirt, scoring three times in less than 15 minutes. The pivotal moment in the game came right before the half, as the Red Wolves were poised to score and take the lead, deep in Tiger territory. However, a mismanaged clock left Arkansas State high and dry, setting up the second half domination for Mizzou.
- Vandy got a little confidence this week after a rough handful of games, beating up on lowly UAB by a score of 52-24. QB Austyn Carta-Samuels had a fantastic day with 334 yards passing with two TDs and an interception. Along with Carta-Samuel's heroics, Jerron Seymour was also a huge contributor for the Commodores, as he rushed for 107 yards and two scores. The ‘Dores were in control of the game throughout, taking a 20-6 halftime lead. They built on the lead after the half, partially due to a 21-point fourth quarter that salted the game away for Vandy.
This week, the grind continues with some important conference contests being decided. Below is this week's slate of SEC games:
SEC Week 5 Schedule
Time (CST) Matchup
11:21 a.m. Georgia State @ #1 Alabama
2:30 p.m. #6 Georgia @ Tennessee
6 p.m. #24 Ole Miss @ Auburn
6 p.m. Arkansas @ #18 Florida
6 p.m. #10 LSU @ Mississippi State
6:30 p.m. Missouri @ Vanderbilt
6:30 p.m. Kentucky @ South Carolina
SEC Teams in the AP Top 25
1. Alabama (55)
2. Oregon (5)
4. Ohio State
8. Florida State
9. Texas A&M
13. South Carolina
20. Texas Tech
21. Oklahoma State
22. Arizona State
23. Fresno State
24. Ole Miss