Check your pulse, Vols fans, I promise it’s not a dream. Tennessee is off to its best start since 2016 with a complete demolition of LSU, a Alabama narrowly survives at home against A&M without Bryce Young, and Mike Leach and Mississippi State continue to silence doubters en route to a 5-1 start. Let’s take a look at the SEC standings thus far:
1 Georgia | 6-0 (3-0) | +173 PD (237 F, 64 A)
6 Tennessee | 5-0 (2-0) | +145 PD (234 F, 89 A)
South Carolina | 4-2 (1-2) | +52 PD (202 F, 150 A)
22 Kentucky | 4-2 (1-2) | +60 PD (158 F, 98 A)
Florida | 4-2 (1-2) | +33 PD (185 F, 152 A)
Vanderbilt | 3-3 (0-2) | -22 PD (199 F, 221 A)
Missouri | 2-4 (0-3) | +3 PD (151 F, 148 A)
3 Alabama | 6-0 (3-0) | +191 PD (266 F, 75 A)
9 Ole Miss | 6-0 (2-0) | +151 PD (238 F, 87 A)
16 Mississippi State | 5-1 (2-1) | +105 PD (231 F, 126 A)
LSU | 4-2 (2-1) | +77 PD (191 F, 114 A)
Auburn | 3-3 (1-2) | -28 PD (122 F, 150 A)
Texas A&M | 3-3 (1-2) | +16 PD (129 F, 113 A)
Arkansas | 3-3 (1-3) | -16 PD (177 F, 193 A)
Tennessee: Rocky Top rolls in Death Valley, 40-13; up to 6 in polls
What a season so far in Knoxville. Tennessee was riding high heading into the bye week after their long awaited victory against Florida, and with an extra week of rest and preparation, Josh Heupel’s squad went into Death Valley and made the Tigers roll over from the very first play.
LSU return man, Jack Bech, fumbled the opening kickoff, Tennessee recovered, and a Jabari Small 1-yard touchdown later, it was 7-0 Tennessee, and LSU never saw a closer deficit the rest of the day.
Tennessee ran the ball up and down Tiger Stadium to the tune of 263 yards and two touchdowns. Jabari Small had his best game this season, totaling 127 rush yards on 22 carries, good for 5.8 yards per carry.
Though he didn’t have to do as much as usual, Hendon Hooker was his normal self, throwing for 239 yards and two touchdowns to Jalin Hyatt.
HENDON HOOKER TO JALIN HYATT FOR SIX pic.twitter.com/9ebjFd0N3f— 247Sports (@247Sports) October 8, 2022
Hyatt and McCoy were once again sensational in this one. The two touchdowns made up half of Hyatt’s catches for 63 yards, and McCoy looked dominant, hauling in all seven of his targets for 140 yards. Mind you, this offense is doing all of this without Cedric Tillman.
A huge contributor to this game becoming the blowout it ended up being the middle eight once again. Heupel and the Vols pride themselves on controlling the middle eight minutes of the game, and it was especially prevalent here. Within the middle eight, LSU turned the ball over on downs which led to a Tennessee field goal to end the half. The Vols then scored to open the second half, resulting in a 20-7 game with 23 seconds left in the first half turning into 30-7 before the 10 minute mark of the third quarter, essentially putting this game to bed.
The real stars of this game, however, were Tennessee’s pass rushers. Byron Young, Tyler Baron, Joshua Josephs, and Roman Harrison wrecked LSU’s entire offense all afternoon. We touched on how underrated Tennessee’s pass rush has been this season, and those sacks finally came with all the pressures. Tennessee was second in total pressures in the SEC coming into the game, and they added 15 more, five turning into sacks. Byron Young shined bright, tallying 2.5 sacks and 2.5 TFLs, something else the Vols’ defensive front racked up.
The Vols rush defense has been very good outside of the Pittsburgh game this year, and they absolutely shut down LSU on the ground. The Vols defense held LSU to 55 rushing yards on 28 attempts to go with 9 tackles for loss.
For the first time this season, Tennessee’s secondary wasn’t a liability. Trevon Flowers played his best game this season at corner, moving over following the injury to Warren Burrell, and Wesley Walker saw more snaps this week and also played well. Overall, there weren’t as many blown coverages, but I would be cautious in expecting this consistently. LSU was set to start two freshman offensive tackles, and one got hurt leaving their line depth in total shambles. The pressure Tennessee generated created a lot of rushed throws and didn’t let Jaylen Daniels extend plays to create. Alabama does not have those same issues up front, and if Bryce Young plays, this secondary will have its hands full.
That being said, this is as big as the Third Saturday in October has felt in a very long time. Alabama is coming to Neyland, and for the first time since the pre-Saban era at Alabama, it feels like the Vols have a fighting chance as Tennessee is looking to end another drought: 15 in a row.
Georgia: Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry once again belongs to Dawgs
Georgia once again dominated Auburn, this time 42-10. Auburn has now scored 57 points in the last six meetings and haven’t eclipsed 14 points since 2017.
There’s a real concern with Georgia’s offense. We’ve now touched on it three weeks in a row. Yes, Georgia scored 42 points, but 28 of those came in the second half when Georgia’s ground game took over. Georgia ran for 292 yards and six touchdowns, and though Kendall Milton went down with an injury early on, junior Daijun Williams and freshman Branson Robinson took over the game.
Stetson Bennett has now failed to throw a touchdown three games in a row. Georgia lacks the playmakers on the outside right now, and it is becoming a very disconcerting issue. This problem has caused the returning champs to feel a lot more vulnerable this year. Georgia gets one more easy week within conference play as they host Vanderbilt, but the World’s Largest Cocktail Party kicks off a tough stretch to end the season. We’ll see if they slip up or not.
South Carolina: Gamecocks upset depleted Kentucky, 24-14
A certain someone said this after week three, and it came to fruition on Saturday.
Does Kentucky win this game with Will Levis? Probably, but the game still has to be played, and that doesn’t change what happened. The Gamecocks defense bottled up a banged up, one-dimensional offense, and it overcame their own offensive struggles.
Spencer Rattler turned the ball over twice in a 7-7 game, but neither came back to hurt South Carolina. Marshawn Lloyd had a great day on the ground, rushing for 110 and a score.
This was a good win for Shane Beamer and company, but it doesn’t change my outlook on them at all. Their weaknesses are still the same, they just lucked out and didn’t have to face Will Levis to make them pay for their turnovers.
Kentucky: Questions loom everywhere in Lexington
This was supposed to be a bounce back game for Kentucky. At home against South Carolina after a crushing loss seemed like a sure fire thing. Thursday rolled around, however, and Mark Stoops didn’t seem too confident in Will Levis playing through a foot injury, and that started the spiral that led to the loss on Saturday.
Backup QB Kaiya Sheron struggled mightily, and while Kentucky was finally able to run the ball, their offense couldn’t do much else outside of Chris Rodriguez Jr.
What started out as a promising start to the season that saw the ‘Cats peak at seven in the AP Poll, but with Levis now out, all that’s buzzing in Lexington now are the questions about their quarterback.
Florida: Gators hold off Mizzou, 24-17
Remember when we talked about the heavy variance of Anthony Richardson? Well, after two weeks of really good AR-15, the bad came here. Richardson completed just 8 of 14 passes for 66 yards, a touchdown, an interception, and a fumble lost. Luckily for Richardson and the Gators, Brady Cook was on the other side, and his struggles were just as pronounced.
Florida went up 10-0 in the first thanks to a field goal and a Jaydon Hill 49 yard pick-six, and while Missouri answered with 10 in the second quarter to send the game to half tied, Florida’s defense shut down the Tigers in the second half, holding them to a Nathaniel Peat touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
This is kind of who Florida is. You never know who they’re going to beat or who’s going to beat them or how Anthony Richardson is going to play. It’s a pretty freaky circle.
Florida will need good Anthony Richardson for the coming weeks as they host LSU, get a bye week, then go play Georgia.
Vanderbilt: Vandy gives Ole Miss a game for 30 minutes, falls 52-28
Would you believe that at one point in the second quarter, Vanderbilt held a 10 point lead over the number nine team in the country? Well that’s exactly what happened here.
Vandy very quickly gave up a touchdown at the end of the half, so it didn’t last very long, but hang the banner: Vandy led at half against Ole Miss.
In all seriousness, Vandy is eventually going to develop into something more than a sharpied W on the schedule a year in advance. Their offense can do damage. AJ Swann has shown real competency and downfield ability, two things they’ve not had since Kyle Shurmur was under center.
Missouri: Another close call, another close loss
If there’s one thing you can say about Missouri, it’s that Eli Drinkwitz’s squad will give anyone a competitive game, win or loss.
Offensively, this team is very hampered by their quarterback play. Nathaniel Peat and Cody Schrader are both averaging 5.0-plus yards per carry, and they have weapons on the outside, but sheesh...Brady Cook is just not the guy.
Cook certainly won’t win you games, but as this game against Florida proved, he can definitely lose them. His first interception was housed by Jaydon Hill, and his second pick, as you can see below, was a bad read and even worse throw that subsequently led to a 91-yard touchdown drive for Florida.
Mizzou will only be as competitive as he lets them be.
Defensively, I have been very impressed by this team’s improvement against the run. A year ago, they gave up 227.8 yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry. This season, that number is down almost 90 yards to 138.3 yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry. Within the 2-4 record, all you can look for is improvement, and they’ve definitely gotten that defensively.
It’s worth noting freshman five-star wideout Luther Burden was injured in this game. It’ll be interesting to see what his status is moving forward.
Alabama: Defense, Gibbs save Heisman-less Tide from upset, 24-20
Going into this game, Alabama was favored by as many as 24 points, but that was Vegas assuming Bryce Young was playing. Young did not, and it nearly cost Alabama.
The other two constant strengths outside of Young came through, and there’s another budding Heisman contender budding in Tuscaloosa, and his name is Jahmyr Gibbs. With 154 rushing yards at 7.3 yards per carry, Gibbs carried a scuffling Tide offense through a couple different rough patches to set up a pair of scoring drives. Gibbs now has 532 rushing yards on 64 carries, a staggering 8.3 yards per carry, and another 220 receiving yards on top of that. The Alvin Kamara-esque Swiss Army Knife running back has emerged as a bright star for Alabama.
Jalen Milroe played as well as anyone could have expected him to, but the difference between he and Young under center is obviously very pronounced.
Defensively, Alabama swarmed Haynes King all night long, and without the suffocating pressure on top of the stout run defense, Alabama loses this game. The Tide front got pressure on King on 25 of his 51 dropbacks, and though they only totaled three sacks, their difference was game saving.
Alabama travels to Knoxville this week for the premier showdown in the SEC thus far. Bryce Young’s health is top billing before anything because him playing is paramount to Alabama winning that game.
Ole Miss: Rebels pull away late in sloppy victory over Vandy
As we mentioned with Vanderbilt, Ole Miss trailed in this game at half, but a big second half from Jonathan Mingo that included two 70-plus yard touchdowns, including this one where he splits the defenders, demonstrating impressive route running.
Jaxson Dart had big numbers on the surface, throwing for 448 yards and three TDs, but dig into the tape and it’s not all too pretty. Dart threw a pair of interceptions, and his three touchdowns were primarily due to his receivers making magic happen. Between Jordan Watkins’ first half TD and both of Mingo’s in the second half, the three scores combined for 166 yards after the catch. Dart benefitted from playing Vanderbilt here. I’m interested to see how Dart and Kiffin handle a game where they’re trailing or struggling to run the ball in a big game.
Ole Miss heads back home to take on Auburn before tackling their doomsday stretch. They’ll be at LSU, at A&M, home against Alabama, and at Arkansas before hosting the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving Day. A lot of tests to be taken for Dart and co.
Mississippi State: THEY’RE AVERAGING OVER 100 RUSHING YARDS
Average rush yards per game under Mike Leach at Mississippi State per year:
2022: 106.7 (!!!!)
That’s right. Mississippi State’s rushing output in 2022 is their 2020 and 2021 output combined. I will gladly be wrong about this team while being right. Leach’s offense was so pass heavy the last two seasons to its own detriment. Will Rogers’ attempts per game are under 50 for the first time in his career as well.
It seems as if a switch flipped after the LSU loss in SEC play because the Bulldogs have as many rushing TDs in their two wins over A&M and now Arkansas as they had all season long prior, and they’re averaging 5.2 yards per carry in the two contests. State has gotten over 100 yards from their running backs in four games in 2022. They had four such games in 2020 and 2021 combined.
Of course, it helped that Arkansas was without KJ Jefferson, and similar to Kentucky, they are nothing without their quarterback, but that doesn’t change that State was the better team on the field in all facets. This is Leach’s best team, and god forbid they continue to be multi-dimensional on offense, they are a very scary matchup for anyone.
LSU: Tigers get dominated in all three phases in blowout loss
It was a rough day at the office for...well just about everyone in purple on Saturday.
Total yards: Tennessee 502, LSU 355
Rushing yards: Tennessee 263, LSU 55
Turnovers: Tennessee 0, LSU 2
Yards per play: Tennessee 6.6, LSU 5.41
It was a thorough defeat for the Bayou Bengals pretty much across the board. Jaylen Daniels played a perfectly solid game, but he couldn’t get a second to throw most of the game. LSU’s line is a bad combination of inexperienced and injured, and it felt the brunt of both of those factors against a Tennessee pass defense that thrives on getting to the quarterback.
On top of Daniels’ struggles to stay upright, LSU couldn’t get anything going on the ground, a big calling card of their offense this season. A big part of that was due to the early deficit, but for a team that was averaging 196 rushing yards per game for 5.1 yards per carry going into Saturday, 55 yards on 2.0 yards per carry on Saturday was never going to cut it.
LSU heads to the Swamp this Saturday before returning home to host Ole Miss and Alabama. Much like everyone else in the conference, it’s a rough road for the next few weeks.
Auburn: Tigers get stomped by Georgia...again
Picture yourself as Auburn for just a second.
You’re up 17 on LSU. You blow a 17 point lead, don’t score the whole second half, and the next week you have to play Georgia.
Yeah, things are not going well for Auburn right now, and this rivalry has become very lopsided very quickly.
Auburn never got anything going offensively—they only managed 10 first downs—and they basically served as Georgia’s get right game. If that doesn’t tell you the state of this program right now, I’m not sure what else does.
Texas A&M: Almost only counts in horseshoes
Everything that needed to go A&M’s way on Saturday did. Primarily Bryce Young not playing, but hey, if you win, that’s all that matters in the box score! However, not even that was enough.
A&M played their national championship on Saturday. Haynes King probably played his best game of the season, and freshman Evan Stewart has begun to emerge, hauling in eight of his 15 targets for 106 yards. Defensively, they still couldn’t stop the run, but they slowed down Alabama’s air attack to a crawl for most of the game, giving their offense a chance.
Remember that whole thing about Jimbo’s play calling? Anyways, with the help of some timely penalties, A&M had a chance to win it on the final drive of the game, but Haynes King’s pass at the goal line fell incomplete as time expired.
It’s been a tough year for A&M, and this was the cherry on top. A chance to salvage their lost season and all of the preseason trash talk Jimbo put out there towards Saban just narrowly missed.
Arkansas: Downward spiral reaches critical point in blowout loss
As if losing back to back games in the biggest stretch of the season wasn’t bad enough, Arkansas was without the captain of their ship, KJ Jefferson, on Saturday, and the boat sank. Mississippi State dominated every facet of the game, from first downs to total yards to fourth down efficiency.
Malik Hornsby put in a valiant effort, throwing for 234 yards and rushing for 114 in relief of the injured Jefferson, but two costly interceptions in the fourth quarter thwarted any shot they had of cutting into the deficit.
Arkansas has dropped three in a row for the second year in a row. Last year, they rattled off five wins in their final six games. We’ll see how this group responds this time around.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: JONATHAN MINGO - OLE MISS
Mingo was sensational on Saturday, racking up a staggering 247 yards receiving and two touchdowns on nine catches. Sure, it was Vandy, but it’s also the most receiving yards in a game by an SEC receiver this year and the only time an SEC receiver has eclipsed the 200 yard mark in a game in 2022 as well.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: BYRON YOUNG - TENNESSEE
Byron Young has become so much of an unsung hero on this Vols defense that we couldn’t even find a picture of him to use for this. Young racked up 2.5 sacks, six total pressures, and 2.5 TFLs in Tennessee’s dominant win over LSU. One of the more underrated edge rushers in the SEC gets his due here.