Tennessee ran into a buzz saw in Athens Saturday afternoon, and come Saturday night, a thriller was unfolding in Baton Rouge. Two teams control their own destinies atop the SEC East and West, but there was also a lot to unpack elsewhere, including a potential Hugh Freeze showcase game in Fayetteville...? Without further adieu, let’s get into the standings.
1 Georgia | 9-0 (6-0) | +264 PD (361 F, 97 A)
5 Tennessee | 8-1 (4-1) | +213 PD (408 F, 195 A)
South Carolina | 6-3 (3-3) | +56 PD (280 F, 224 A)
Kentucky | 6-3 (3-3) | +36 PD (212 F, 176 A)
Florida | 5-4 (2-4) | +18 PD (281 F, 263 A)
Missouri | 4-5 (2-4) | +15 PD (208 F, 193 A)
Vanderbilt | 3-6 (0-5) | -91 PD (240 F, 331 A)
7 LSU | 7-2 (5-1) | +113 PD (313 F, 200 A)
11 Ole Miss | 8-1 (4-1) | +143 PD (337 F, 194 A)
10 Alabama | 7-2 (4-2) | +211 PD (376 F, 165 A)
Mississippi State | 6-3 (3-3) | +77 PD (293 F, 216 A)
Arkansas | 5-4 (2-3) | +13 PD (289 F, 276 A)
Auburn | 3-6 (1-5) | -62 PD (216 F, 278 A)
Texas A&M | 3-6 (1-5) | -10 PD (205 F, 215 A)
Tennessee: The dream run ends in Athens, Vols fall 27-13
27-13 may have been the final, but it never felt that close.
Tennessee went down to Athens to play between the hedges, and, to put it bluntly, got their tails whipped for four quarters. Had it not been for pouring rain in the second half and Georgia going to a very conservative, run heavy second half, the score may have been much worse.
Tennessee got shown up in the trenches on both sides, especially on offenses, as both the crowd noise and the return of game wrecker Jalen Carter tortured the Vols all game. Hendon Hooker looked human for the first time all season as the crowd and Georgia’s pressure created errant throws. The opportunities were sparse as none of Tennessee’s receivers could create consistent separation, and when they did, Hooker was a touch off his deep balls, missing a handful of field-flipping throws.
Defensively, it was very ugly. The backbone of Tennessee’s defense was being able to stuff the run, and they did a great job of that in the second half which really kept the Vols hanging around, but the first half was a much different story. Georgia was gashing Tennessee on the ground for five yards per carry in the first half, and Stetson Bennett had his way with the Volunteer secondary. Blown coverages, wide open receivers running without a defender within 15 yards, it felt like Tennessee was getting Tennessee’d.
This was a damper and a reality check for Tennessee, but it should not be met with negativity. Yes, the loss and how they lost were disappointing, but there is so much upside still surrounding this program moving forward and especially just in this season. Georgia is playing this sport at a level very few programs have achieved in this era of college football, especially on the defensive side. Tennessee will not see another defense like this the rest of the season.
As for beyond the regular season, at the very least, a New Year’s Six game is more than in reach, but their CFP hopes are still alive. Alabama’s loss to LSU completely reversed the mood with this team’s chances Saturday night. No longer can a one-loss Alabama team win the SEC, taking out one of the potential obstacles Tennessee would have to climb. Clemson also lost, 35-14 to Notre Dame, and if anyone has watched that team play, ACC Championship or not, they’re not CFP material. That leaves TCU, Ohio State, and Michigan. The latter still have to play each other, and Tennessee’s résumé is much better than a one-loss OSU or Michigan non-Big Ten champion. TCU is a touchdown underdog this coming weekend against Texas.
It is very far from over. It’s up to Heupel and the veteran leaders of this team to pick it up, dust themselves off, and put it on Missouri this coming weekend because there’s still a lot to play for.
Georgia: Kirby and the Dawgs remind everyone who they are
There is currently one team operating on a level above the rest of the pack of the FBS, and it’s the Georgia Bulldogs.
What Kirby Smart has turned this program into is a tremendous feat, and it looks eerily familiar. For years, it was Alabama who was bigger, stronger, faster than everyone they matched up with on both sides of the ball, but especially on defense. They practiced differently, trained differently, and it translated on the field. That’s Georgia now, and one man is at the heart of both: Kirby Smart.
Smart was Alabama’s defensive coordinator from 2008 to 2015 when he took Georgia’s head coaching job, returning to his alma mater. Smart was a defensive backs coach in Saban’s first year at Alabama in 2007, and Alabama’s defense gave up over 22 points per game that season. From the season Smart took over as DC until the season he left, Alabama didn’t allow 20 points per game again.
Under Mark Richt, Georgia was good to very good most every year, and they were content with that, but when Smart was hired, he demanded more because he knew what it took, and Georgia has ascended into one of the nation’s powers, potentially on the cusp of a dynasty. He is a revolutionary defensive mind, but more importantly, the culture he’s built in Athens is the stuff we’ll look back at in 20 years when he’s still there and marvel at. When you can have a head coach at the heart of your team’s culture of winning, it tends to crescendo into a much larger, dynastic program.
A lot had been made of Georgia’s struggles against Kent State and Missouri, but if Smart does one thing better than any coach, it’s get his players up for big games. Smart has a real chance to be the first Georgia coach to win multiple national championships, and it’s hard seeing any team capable of standing in their way.
South Carolina: Gamecocks rebound against Vandy, 38-27
South Carolina defeated Vanderbilt Saturday, becoming bowl eligible in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2017 and 2018.
Spencer Rattler had his best game of the season, throwing three touchdowns, and the Gamecocks eclipsed the 200 yard rushing mark for the second time this season.
The second half wasn’t exactly inspiring football, but this was a big win in a major letdown spot for Shane Beamer’s squad. South Carolina is 6-3 for the first time since 2017, and they’ll head to the Swamp this coming Saturday, kicking off a tough three week stretch to round out the end of the season.
Kentucky: ‘Cats survive against Missouri, 21-17
One might wonder what this team might be with an offensive line as Will Levis was sacked six times in a game that nearly got away from Kentucky in the fourth quarter.
Levis was efficient, throwing for 170 yards on 13-of-19 passing for three touchdowns, and he made the most of what he could considering he was pressured on 10 of his 27 dropbacks to go with the six sacks.
Kentucky had a penalty heavy afternoon as well, but a win is a win no matter how ugly they can be, and after last week, Kentucky would take anything to build on moving forward.
Florida: Gators blank A&M in second half, roll 41-24
Florida found themselves trailing 24-20 at halftime at Kyle Field on Saturday. Florida let A&M tie their highest scoring output in FBS games without Conner Weigman in just 30 minutes of play, but they shut out the Aggies in the second half, dominating defensively while Anthony Richardson played his best game since the Tennessee loss.
Florida’s defense has been criticized for much of the season, but they flat out dominated the final two quarters of this game. A&M put together just one drive of 20 or more yards in the second half, and it ended in a fumble. The Gators generated pressure on 20 of Haynes King’s 29 dropbacks, sacking him twice and creating many broken plays.
The second half was a big answer for Florida. This game was a gauge to see where two flailing programs were, and Florida definitely answered much more positively.
Missouri: Late score takes down Mizzou...again
Missouri has made an art form out of losing close games this year. Their four losses in conference play are by a combined 18 points, all one possession games, three of which saw the Tigers tied or leading late in the fourth quarter.
This game was no different as a late Will Levis to Dane Key touchdown pass put Kentucky up for good with just over five minutes left in the game.
It’s been a tough year for Missouri, and while it feels like beating a dead horse, they’re a quarterback away from a winning record right now. Burden continues to get more involved, so if you can get the number one wide receiver recruit a legitimate QB next season, this team could make a bit of a leap.
Vanderbilt: Silver linings
This kind of a season was expected from Vanderbilt, but that shouldn’t take away from the strides Clark Lea is making with this program. Lea took over at ground zero with this program. Vandy didn’t win a single game in 2020 and were a three win team averaging 16.5 points per game in 2019. Suffice to say, Lea inherited a whole lotta stink.
Vanderbilt has lost 26 straight conference games, but there is definitely something building, it’s just not resulting in wins. A season ago, Vanderbilt had one game where they scored more than 21 points in a game in conference play. This year, they’ve done it twice, one coming against top 10 Ole Miss, and they’ve largely done it behind true freshman, AJ Swann, under center.
When you can get that kind of potential shining through with Swann and fellow freshman Jayden McGowan at wide receiver, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
LSU: Tigers control their own destiny, topple Tide 32-31 in OT
Following the 40-13 beatdown Tennessee put on this team, I think it’s safe to say no one saw this ascension coming from LSU. Since that loss, LSU owns top 10 wins against Ole Miss and now arch nemesis Alabama, and they sit all alone atop the SEC West, controlling their own fate, and more importantly, removing Alabama from the College Football Playoff conversation.
Jayden Daniels played a very sound game, and though he wasn’t explosive through the air, it was the mistakes that he didn’t make and his dual threat ability that made the world of difference for this team. LSU has been great all year at avoiding turnovers, and that was paramount in this game.
Daniels’ overtime touchdown run and precise strike to Mason Taylor on the two-point play put away Alabama and officially launched the successful start to the Brian Kelly era. Remember, it was Kelly’s decision to start Daniels over the much more popular choice in Garrett Nussmeier, and it has paid dividends for LSU. Daniels now has 24 total touchdowns to just one interception, and without him, they don’t win this game. Brian Kelly has pulled all the right strings so far this season, and LSU is in the driver’s seat towards Atlanta.
Ole Miss: IDLE
Alabama: Lightning strikes twice
When things are wrong in Tuscaloosa, we barely see them, we hardly feel a rumble of it because they’re rolling through the SEC West at such a rate that the cracks hardly show. That is not the case in 2022.
Alabama does not have world beaters at wide receiver that we’ve become accustomed to seeing, and Bryce Young can do a lot, but he can only do so much, and the same goes for Jahmyr Gibbs who has become Alabama’s entire offensive funnel.
Bill O’Brien is coming under fire, and rightfully so. Alabama’s play calling and overall lack of discipline have become the crux of the reason of their struggles this year. Aside from the Tennessee game, they’ve played terrific defense, but it’s been the offense that’s let them down multiple times this year.
Jahmyr Gibbs is this team’s leading pass catcher with 10 more receptions than anyone else. That’s a problem. Alabama is two plays away from being 5-4, yes, but more noticeably to me, they’re two plays away from still being unbeaten and all these problems being suffocated and not rising to the surface, something that is happening at other top tier programs *cough cough Ryan Day*.
Saban asked about Bill O'Brien: "There's things that we need to do better. I'm not gonna analyze anybody publicly, good, bad or indifferent."— Charlie Potter (@Charlie_Potter) November 7, 2022
The writing is on the wall. Expect a lot of changes within Nick Saban’s staff this offseason. The Bill O’Brien experiment has failed.
Mississippi State: State wins in OT, Leach goes viral
Mississippi State almost fell victim to a colossal collapse, but they pulled it out in the end in overtime, 39-33.
State led 24-6 at halftime, but Auburn answered with 19 unanswered to take a 25-24 lead midway through the fourth. The Bulldogs were able to scrap back and tie the game with a field goal with 30 seconds left, and then the onside kick to end all onside kicks happened.
A hilarious stroke of luck, but it was all for naught as Massimo Biscardi missed a 56 yard field goal as time expired.
State’s defense held solid in overtime, leading to a missed field goal by Auburn, and two plays later, Jo’quavious Marks found the painted grass to win the game for the Bulldogs.
Mike Leach was at an all-time Leach level in this game.
Coach Leach had a discussion with his receivers, and shortly after he took all of the chairs up. pic.twitter.com/8J6EVkDubz— Jonathan Flippo⚜️ (@JonathanFlippo) November 6, 2022
This was at peak entertainment factor all night long, and Leach slowly losing his mind throughout was the cherry on top.
Arkansas: Hogs Freeze against Liberty, 21-19
The talk around Arkansas all season was about how poor its defense has been, but on Saturday, their high scoring offense was nowhere to be found.
Prior to the fourth quarter, Arkansas could only muster five (5) points as KJ Jefferson arguably had his worst game as the quarterback for the Razorbacks, throwing a pair of interceptions for the first time as a starter.
Defensively, Arkansas played well, tallying nine tackles-for-loss and sacking Liberty quarterback Johnathan Bennett four times, but it wasn’t enough as the offense just couldn’t overcome the 21-0 deficit.
This is definitely a low point many didn’t see coming this season. Arkansas put up their worst rushing output of the year, and they now sit at 5-4 with changes sure to come. They have the worst pass defense in the conference and have allowed fewer than 27 points just three times this year (they’ve lost two of those games).
Auburn: Tigers drop fifth straight
It’s certainly not a season to write home about, but at least this game was fun!
Tank Bigsby continues to rot away in this offense. Here’s to hoping he transfers and finds success similar to what Bo Nix has found at Oregon.
Despite all the despair around this program, it’s going to be the most sought after job this offseason. This is an untapped gold mine IF the program’s boosters can step aside and the athletic department. The southeast recruiting scene is as ubiquitous as ever, and all it takes is the right hire to get the ball rolling.
Texas A&M: Runaway dumpster fire continues to roll through Kyle Field
All of A&M’s problems were supposed to be solved after finally returning home after a month of away games. However, that has not been the case as A&M has now dropped five straight and are 2-3 at Kyle Field.
This game may go differently had Conner Weigman not been sick, forcing him to miss the game, but alas, that was not the case and we all got another dose of Haynes King. A&M led going to the break and then forgot how to score the entire second half.
Outside of Miami, this might be the most painful team to watch in the country. Their complete offensive ineptitude is matched by their SEC-worst run defense that is allowing over 215 yards a game. The defense was once the backbone of this program, and for this year at least, it has been far from it.
A&M gets Auburn next week and UMass the week after before finishing up with LSU at home. I am very interested to see whether or not this team becomes bowl eligible.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: JAYDEN DANIELS - LSU
Daniels is the first two-time winner of this award as he led LSU to a major win over Alabama on Saturday night. Daniels threw for 182 yards and two touchdowns and added 109 on the ground and the rushing touchdown that set up the two-point conversion he threw to Mason Taylor for the win.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: JALEN CARTER - GEORGIA
Georgia welcomed back their star on the defensive side of the ball last week against Florida, and in his first game with full starter reps, Carter got back to his old ways, tormenting Tennessee all game long. Carter’s strip sack in the first quarter nearly resulted in a safety, and he was unblockable in the running game. He added a late forced fumble in a game that he plain and simple controlled up front almost single handedly.