Well, folks, we've almost reached the end of the long and winding road that is the SEC football season. At this point, especially in light of the events of the past weekend, the season can be summed up in one word, or rather three letters...WTF?
In one of the most bizarre SEC seasons in recent memory, the SEC pecking order, for the most part, has been turned over and catapulted into the cosmos, with a new regime emerging from the wreckage of 2012. Of course, Alabama is still the Once and Future King of the SEC, sitting atop both the conference and BCS standings as the team to beat for both titles.
But beyond Bama's reign, there's something rotten in Denmark. Perennial powerhouses such as the Georgia Bulldogs and LSU Tigers have fallen by the wayside, stricken either with bouts of injury or some undetected malaise. Regardless, a glimpse at the SEC standings would give a time traveler who leapt from 2012 definite pause. Two 3-9 teams from the previous year are contenders for their respective divisional crowns and a chance at the SEC title game. Both Mizzou and Auburn have a gauntlet left to run, but I don't remember another year where such a dramatic reversal of fortunes has taken place.
The games themselves at times have been bizarre, and one need look no further than last weekend's heavyweight bout between Georgia and Auburn to see proof positive of the strange hoodoo floating around the SEC this season. Through three quarters, Auburn looked as if they were going to cruise to an impressive and rather uneventful victory over the rival Bulldogs. That is, until the real Aaron Murray decided to stand up.
Auburn used its prolific running game to work the porous Dawg defense early on, leaping out to a 27-10 lead going into the half thanks to the strong running of quarterback Nick Marshall and Tre Mason. However, Murray and friends suddenly erupted in the fourth quarter when all appeared lost, moving the ball up and down the field on the Tigers as if unopposed. With a little over a minute and a half remaining, the Dawgs took their first lead of the day when Murray scrambled for a touchdown to give Georgia a 28-37 lead.
The game appeared to be over, with the clock dwindling and AU's run-heavy defense unable to work its magic with so little time remaining. The Bulldog defense stiffened and held Auburn to a 4th-and-18 on the Tigers' side of the field with 25 clicks left on the clock. What happened next would become a teachable moment for every coach at every level of football, as Marshall heaved a hail mail pass deep to the center of the field. The receiver appeared to be well covered by two defenders, and the ball was well underthrown and would have harmlessly fell to the floor if left unmolested. However, not one but two Bulldogs leaped for the ball as if to intercept, but instead of knocking the ball to the ground, they tipped it into the air where a waiting Ricardo Louis plucked it blindly from the ether and trucked into the end zone for the winning score.
With Auburn leading and a few clicks left on the clock, Murray got his team inside the Auburn 25, but was unable to convert the score, leaving the Dawgs with one of the most heart-breaking losses in school history. Marshall finished the day with 229 yards passing with a TD on a 15-of-26 performance, and he added to that number 89 yards rushing with two TDs. Murray finished with 415 yards passing with two touchdowns and an interception, in addition to his rushing touchdown. Georgia back Todd Gurley was corralled for most of the night, though he did pick up 79 yards rushing and a touchdown while still limited by a prior injury.
In other news around the SEC...
- Ole Miss kept its winning ways alive, moving to 7-3 on the year with a win over the Troy Trojans by a score of 51-21. Bo Wallace had a huge day for the Rebels, as did the entire Rebel offense. Wallace accounted for 275 yards passing with three TDs and another 66 yards rushing with one TD. The Rebels' 751 yards of total offense was the most ever produced by an Ole Miss team, and marked the most yardage accumulated in over six decades of play. The game was never really in contention, as Ole Miss leapt out to a 20-7 lead in the first and never looked back, especially after a particularly explosive third quarter performance in which the Rebels score 17.
- Vandy also had a historic outing on Saturday after beating the hapless Kentucky Wildcats by a score of 22-6. The win over the Wildcats moved the 'Dores' record to 6-4 on the season, making them bowl eligible for the third consecutive season, something that Vandy has never before done. The Wildcats didn't go without a fight, as they took their opening drive down the field with QB Jalen Whitlow at the helm and quickly scored. However, things went downhill immediately thereafter, as the PAT attempt was blocked and returned 98 yards for a safety by Steven Clarke. That would be the Wildcats' only score of the day, as Vandy dominated throughout the remaining three quarter on the defensive side of the ball. After scoring in the first, Vandy was unable to score again until the 4th quarter. Austyn Carta-Samuels got the start for Vandy after several weeks of injury, and he finished with 184 yards passing on the day. For the Wildcats, Whitlow was 14-of-28 for 120 yards and four interceptions.
- South Carolina had a ugly win over the Florida Gators in a game which was in doubt late before the ‘Cock's pulled out the 19-14 win. Florida, despite starting third-string QB Skyler Mornhinweg, was able to jump out to an early lead thanks to a strong running game spear-headed by RB Kelvin Taylor, who finished with 96 yards and two TDs. The Gators led 14-6 at the half, but the ‘Cocks rose to the occasion, led by Connor Shaw, who finished the day with 213 yards and a TD. The SC defense shut down the Gator attack in the second half, while Shaw and SC back Shon Carson pounded away at the vaunted but limping Florida D. SC took a 19-14 lead into the waning moments of the game, and though Mornhinweg and the Gators threatened late, SC defender Jimmy Legree snared an interception in SC territory and stopped the Gator threat.
- Whoa, Alabama! After dismantling a strong LSU team, the Tide experienced the traditional Mississippi State letdown against the Bulldogs in Starkville Saturday night, winning by a less-than-comfortable score of 20-7. Bama turned the ball over an uncharacteristic four times (two fumbles by Yeldon and Drake, and two AJ McCarron interceptions), though the Bullies couldn't take advantage with Tyler Russell under center for MSU. Though the Bama offense sputtered from time to time, T.J. Yeldon had a great day, rushing for a career-high 160 yards on 24 carries. Bama's defense also came to play, holding the usually potent Bulldog offense to a mere 197 yards of total offense. The defense shut down back-up QB Tyler Russell, who picked up 144 yards passing, and held the running game to 53 total yards on the ground. The offensive effort was lacking, however, as MSU's defensive line disrupted the Bama scheme and made the Tide work for every yard gained.
Weird, y'all. This season...I just don't know what to make of it all. I guess that's just life in the SEC. To clinch the division, Mizzou must win its last two contests against SEC West foes Texas A&M and Ole Miss, two teams that appear to be hitting their stride. If they survive that gauntlet, they will meet the West winner in Atlanta. One slip would vault South Carolina into that opportunity however, so the stakes are high. In the West, it's a one game season, with Alabama and Auburn meeting on the Plains for all the marbles in two weeks.
Make no mistake, though the schedule is short, there is much to be decided in the SEC, both East and West
Enjoy, and stay tuned...
SEC Week 13 Schedule
Time (CST) Matchup
11:21 a.m. Mississippi State @ Arkansas
12:00 p.m. Coastal Carolina @ #11 South Carolina
1:00 p.m. Georgia Southern @ Florida
1:00 p.m. Chattanooga @ #1 Alabama
2:30 a.m. #12 Texas A&M @ #22 LSU
6 p.m. Kentucky @ Georgia
6:00 p.m. Vanderbilt @ Tennessee
6:45 p.m. #8 Missouri @ #24 Ole Miss
SEC Teams in the BCS Top 25
2. Florida State
3. Ohio State
10. Oklahoma State
11. South Carolina
12. Texas A&M
13. Michigan State
15. Fresno State
16. Northern Illinois
17. Arizona State
24. Ole Miss