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SEC Recap: Week Five

Half the league takes a vacay day, Auburn gets more help from the stripes, and we send well wishes to Jaylen Waddle while sipping victory whiskey over breaking the Kentucky curse

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn 35 vs. Ole Miss 28

I surmised a couple weeks back that Auburn could be the nation’s most confusing team, but perhaps there should have been no confusion at all.

There certainly isn’t now. Despite escaping Oxford with a 7-point win Saturday, the consensus should clearly be that Tigers just are not that good.

If they were, we wouldn’t be having the same discussion four weeks running about how they were lucky to win, should not have won while getting thoroughly whipped, or should have been beaten far worse.

The zebras have saved Auburn and Gus Malzahn from what could easily be a 1-4 record and a residence in the SEC West cellar. Two weeks after beating Arkansas on a last-second field that could have easily never been, the Tigers were bailed out again by suspect officiating.

With less than six minutes remaining and Ole Miss up by one, officials declined to stop the game to review a kickoff that appeared to glance off the fingers of Auburn return man Shaun Shivers as the ball scooted past him and into the end zone.

The Rebels recovered the ball for what should have been a score to presumably put the game out of reach. But as Auburn’s fortuitous ways would have it, the play was ruled a touchback, and a possession later, QB Bo Nix hit WR Seth Williams down the sideline for the game-winning score, thanks in part to some horrific tackling from the Ole Miss secondary.

Minutes after Ole Miss’ would-be touchdown, we learned that the SEC replay booth had reviewed the play and determined that the ball had not touched Shivers, making a stoppage in play unnecessary.

Upon seeing the replay — the same replay that would have been seen by officials had the game been halted — the SEC Network duo of Tom Hart and Jordan Rodgers were incredulous, wondering out loud why in the world the officials would not take a second look at what would have been a seriously game-altering scoring play.

After the game, Lane Kiffin showed his disdain, but in a slightly more passive-aggressive nature.

“That’s the equivalent of a scoring play, which they stop all the time now, forever it seems. I don’t know,” Kiffin said. “Someone said postgame it looked like the finger definitely moved. But whatever.”

Alabama 48 vs. Tennessee 17

Man, you have to feel for Jaylen Waddle.

The kid is special, and no matter where in the SEC your allegiance lies, you can’t say it’s not fun watching athletes like him play this game on Saturdays.

Waddle, widely considered to be a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, is now gone for the season, but he will recover. And he’ll likely flash in the pros what he has the last three years against the SEC, and it’s all electric.

In the meantime, my heart goes out to all ‘Bama fans, who could have used a few more games with their explosive playmaker.

Of some small amount of consolation, which all but one or two programs in the country would envy, is the fact that the Tide program produces Waddles in oodles — and not just at wide receiver.

Hence, the ease with which Alabama deconstructed the Tennessee defense en route to a 48-17 win at Neyland Stadium Saturday, its 14th-straight victory in the annual cross-divisional series — and 29th consecutive against an SEC East opponent.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Tennessee
The loss of wide receiver Jaylen Waddle to a season-ending ankle injury Saturday is a blow to the Tide offense, but Nick Saban’s roster has more than enough to soften the impact.

Having rolled up at least 544 yards of total offense its each of its last three games, Alabama scorched the Vols for nearly 600, 387 of which came through the air via QB Mac Jones, who, as documented here recently, is as spoiled as any quarterback in the country — even without Waddle.

The odd thing is, Alabama won by 31 points on the road without Jones throwing for a touchdown to DeVonta Smith, John Metchie III, or any other wide receiver who was assigned four or five stars in high school.

Which begs the following questions:

Are the Tide’s other receivers less talented than Waddle? Pshhht.

Was the Tennessee defense simply overwhelmed? For much of the game, yes.

Does Alabama benefit from more depth than anyone else in the country? Damn right.

Missouri 20 vs. Kentucky 10

I’ll take wins like this all day long.

It wasn’t flashy. At times, it was downright boring to watch.

But that makes it no less satisfying, and it feels pretty damn good to squash that Kentucky bugaboo, particularly when you consider that Mizzou did it by beating the ‘Cats at their own game, as eloquently noted by RMN’s very own Brandon Kiley in his five takeaways.

It was a clean game that contained very few blemishes.

The Connor Bazelak (21-of-30 for 201 yards) we experienced against LSU wasn’t present, but that’s not a reasonable expectation. In Eli Drinkwitz’s offense, it appears, he doesn’t need to throw for 400 yards every game.

Kentucky’s defense is among the SEC’s best, but Bazelak displayed what is quickly becoming his most prized asset — and one that is beginning to earn him praise around the league. The poise with which he plays is something to behold, and it was evident despite the fact the game plan clearly was not drawn up around him.

The best part was that the Tigers, as the game wore on, seemed to take some sadistic pleasure in grinding Kentucky into a pulp, evidenced in part by the sideline taunt of corner Kelvin Joseph, whose request for help up after getting trucked by Larry Rountree III was dismissed by the entire Mizzou roster.

Mizzou ran 92 plays to Kentucky’s 36. Not surprisingly, the Tigers also thoroughly dominated the time of possession (43 to 16) and first down (28 to 6) columns of the stat sheet.

Mizzou ran the ball 62 times on Saturday, including 37 attempts from Rountree III, a career high, who continues to close in on Zack Abron for second place on the all-time Missouri rushing list.

The defense, allowing just 47 passing yards, smothered Kentucky in historical fashion. The ‘Cats gained only 145 total yards, marking the first time Mizzou has held an opponent to fewer than 150 since Delaware State in 2016.

After the LSU win, I noted that last year’s staff would’ve allowed the team to crumble in the face of such adversity.

Similarly, I don’t know if the 2019 team would’ve had the toughness to pull off the Kentucky win, especially mentally, which came into play when QB Terry Wilson hit WR Josh Ali to cut the lead to seven with a quarter remaining.

Mizzou has now beaten good competition twice — opponents against whom they where underdogs at home — and done so in completely contrasting styles.

You gotta love that.

LSU 52 vs. South Carolina 24

We may never see a college football offense the likes of which we saw in Baton Rouge last season, but in all fairness to senior LSU QB Myles Brennan, he performed admirably through three games as the replacement to the otherworldly Joe Burrow.

Brennan, who has thrown for more than 1,000 yards 11 touchdowns versus three picks this season, was sidelined, however, with an abdomen tear, forcing true freshman TJ Finley into the starting role against South Carolina.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Louisiana State
LSU true freshman quarterback TJ Finley filled in nicely for the injured Myles Brennan against South Carolina, throwing for two scores, but he got plenty of help from his buddies in the Tigers’ 52-24 rout.

Finley on Saturday definitely wasn’t Burrow, and may not have even been Brennan, but he was steady and benefitted from what may end up being one of LSU’s most complete team games all season.

Finley, a four-star prospect and the eighth true freshman to start under center for the Tigers since World War II, completed 80 percent of his balls for 265 yards and two scores, but the defense chipped in with a pick six, and WR Trey Palmer returned a kickoff, the first at Tiger Stadium since 1981.

The reigning champs won’t recover the swagger with which they dominated the rest of college football last season, but Saturday was a big step in stabilizing what has been a shaky repeat attempt.