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SEC Recap: Week Ten

History at Faurot, no Saban (no problem) in Tuscaloosa, and a fight for Playoff positioning

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NCAA Football: Kentucky at Alabama
Alabama’s Nick Saban wasn’t masked up on Saturday for his team’s Iron Bowl matchup with Auburn, which the head coach had to watch from home after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week.

Alabama 42 vs. Auburn 13

I often wonder what Alabama football will look like in the post-Nick Saban era.

The answer to that question is at least a few years away, but on Saturday, we learned that his program is every bit as dominant with him absent from the building than it is with him on the sideline.

Missing his first game in 47 years as a coach, Saban admitted prior to the Iron Bowl matchup with Auburn that the only concern he had for his staff in his absence were decisions to be made about special in-game situations, like whether to go for it on fourth down or put certain personnel on the field.

Well, against their rivals, the Tide didn’t face a fourth down, and the personnel deployed by interim head coach Steve Sarkisian did OK.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Alabama
Filling in for head coach Nick Saban, Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian did his part to make sure the Tide didn’t miss a beat Saturday against Auburn.

Last week, Saban found a reason to be unhappy after a 60-point win against Kentucky, albeit because a reporter asked what he thought was a stupid question (which it was).

When Auburn scored its lone touchdown Saturday with just under four minutes remaining — the first score the Alabama defense has allowed in more than 12 quarters — you could almost feel the frustration fester inside Saban, who was not allowed communication with any of his staff during the game.

And I’m sure there was similar disdain from afar for senior backup running back Brian Robinson Jr., whose first career fumble ultimately resulted in the Auburn touchdown.

But for the second time in as many weeks, that would be nitpicking, even for Saban, whose offense was every bit as brilliant as his defense.

Highlighted by QB Mac Jones’ career-high five touchdowns and 171 more yards from WR DeVonta Smith, the Tide have scored 35 or more points for the 21st consecutive game, most in college football history.

Florida 34 vs. Kentucky 10

The No. 6 Gators showed limited enthusiasm while allowing Kentucky to keep things close for a half Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

In fact, the most evident — and it was extremely evident — display of energy on the Florida sideline came via head coach Dan Mullen, who breathed fire in the face of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham moments before WR Kadarius Toney made the ass-chewing moot.

Toney returned the punt of Max Duffy 40 yards with just under a minute left to put the Gators up 13-10 going into the half.

It was the ultimate turning point of a game in which the Gators won by three-plus scores despite playing what Mullen, Grantham, the rest of the staff, and Florida fans alike would probably label as a B- or C+ effort.

Perhaps that speaks to the volume of the Gators’ talent, especially offensively.

QB Kyle Trask completed more than 77 percent of his attempts against Kentucky, and his three touchdown passes kept him atop the national leaderboard with 34. All three scores came courtesy of tight end Kyle Pitts, who played his first game in three weeks and now leads all tight ends with 11 touchdown grabs, which ranks fourth nationally among all receivers.

More importantly, Trask becomes the first quarterback in program history — and second-ever (Drew Lock) in the SEC — to throw for three or more scores in eight consecutive games.

Of course, the flip side of that argument is that the Gators should be thirstier for style points, which would serve them well the final two games against Tennessee and LSU — even with the opportunity to cash in against top-ranked Alabama in the SEC title game.

Texas A&M 20 vs. LSU 7

Speaking of style points, what will the pollsters do with A&M once the new College Football Playoff rankings are revealed Tuesday evening?

Saturday’s home win over the discombobulated defending national champs didn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in the No. 5 Aggies, who right now hold the ultimate trump card over Florida, which is, at least for a couple more days, ranked a spot behind A&M.

Save for Ohio State, whose game with Illinois was canceled, the teams atop the rankings all won convincingly, and so the pecking order for the first four slots figures to remain the same.

But how much stock will the committee place in what went down this weekend in Gainesville and College Station?

NCAA Football: Florida at Texas A&M
Time will tell to what extent quarterback Kellen Mond and Texas A&M’s win against Florida earlier this season will impact the College Football Playoff seedings.

Looking ahead, the more Florida rolls, the more impressive the Aggies’ 41-38 win over the Gators back in early October becomes, and we know that head-to-head matchups stand out as one of the main criteria taken into consideration by the Playoff committee to determine seeding.

But listed directly below “head-to-head competition” on the CFP’s official website is the element of common opponents, which are weighed “without incenting margin of victory.”

Let’s pretend for a moment that COVID-19 doesn’t exist and that the remaining schedule for both teams plays out, including A&M’s postponed matchup with Ole Miss, which could be played on December 19 provided the Aggies do not represent the SEC West in the conference title game.

A&M and Florida will have finished the regular season playing six common opponents, against whom both teams are currently undefeated. One of those opponents (Tennessee) has yet to play either Florida or A&M, putting the Vols in a unique position to throw the current rankings into complete flux.

If neither team slips up, things could get messy for the members of the selection committee, whose job of picking the four best teams is the envy of no one, even in a world of no pandemic.

Missouri 41 vs. Vanderbilt 0

By far what was Missouri’s most complete game of the season will never be remembered as such by anyone outside of the tightest of circles within the Tiger fanbase.

For those of us within those circles, we’ll forever remember the result, if not the score, but along with the rest of the country, we’ll forever remember Saturday at Faurot Field as a noteworthy slice of college football history.

Missouri thoroughly dominated both sides of the ball against hapless Vandy, which appeared to be just going through the motions for lame duck head coach Derek Mason.

[UPDATE: Hours after this post was published, it was reported that Mason was fired by Vanderbilt; Mason was 27-55 overall in just under seven seasons in Nashville.]

And there was a lot, a lot to like. Even when considering the opponent.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri
Fans at Faurot Field Saturday were treated to a memorable piece of college football history that served as the perfect complement to their team’s dominating performance against Vanderbilt.

Larry Rountree III ran hard and fast, the latter of which was made easier by a shuffled offensive line that opened gaping holes in the Vanderbilt defense all day. Rountree’s season-high 160 yards was complemented very nicely by Tyler Badie’s 102 receiving yards, also a season-high, and Connor Bazelak quietly completed more than 80 percent of throws and kept the ball out of harm’s way once again.

The defense swarmed. In its first home shutout in more than a year — and first home shutout of an SEC team since 2018 — the unit essentially swallowed up the Commodore offense, allowing 185 total yards, holding Vanderbilt to only 13 first downs, and making life very uncomfortable for freshman QB Ken Seals, who averaged just 4.4 yards per attempt.

The Commodores didn’t run a play on Missouri’s side of the field the first half — and did not do so until a few minutes into the fourth quarter.

Not surprisingly, by halftime, the outcome was clear, setting the stage for Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller.

With the special teams portion of Vanderbilt’s roster ravaged by COVID-19, Fuller, a senior goalkeeper for the Commodores’ women’s soccer team, practiced with the football team all week and was labeled as an “option” by Mason entering the game.

Following a first half in which Missouri deferred and held Vandy scoreless, Mason exercised that option, putting Fuller into the game for the kickoff to start the second half.

Fuller executed what appeared to be a designed squib-style kick toward the sideline, becoming the first-ever woman to participate in a Power 5 conference game and the first to appear in an NCAA football game since Kent State’s April Goss in 2015.

The historic moment took place just six days after Fuller helped lead the Lady Commodores to their first SEC Tournament title in soccer since 1994.

Georgia 45 vs. South Carolina 16

QB JT Daniels threw for more than 400 yards and four scores in his Georgia debut last week, a game in which the scoreboard seemed to have defied the box score.

The Bulldogs needed every one of Daniels’ TD passes against Mississippi State, which included the game-winner late in the fourth, because the offense couldn’t do anything else right.

Georgia ran the ball 23 times for eight yards. Eight.

Against South Carolina, the one-sidedness of the offense was flipped, and the scoreboard and stats were fully aligned.

Head coach Kirby Smart said after the game that he and his staff didn’t ask Daniels to do a lot against the Gamecocks. And he didn’t.

NCAA Football: Georgia at South Carolina
Take this image of Georgia running back James Cook running away from the South Carolina defense, multiply it by about 10, and you get an accurate representation of the Bulldogs’ blowout win Saturday.

Daniels attempted only 16 passes, and he probably could’ve gotten away with fewer. The entire depth chart at running back did the heavy lifting as the Bulldog ground game took out its frustration from a week ago, churning out a season-high 332 yards and four touchdowns as Georgia scored the most points at South Carolina in the history of the series.

Georgia averaged more than seven yards per attempt, and four backs rushed for at least 77 yards, led by junior James Cook, whose total of 104 included a 29-yarder for one of his two scores.

Ole Miss 31 vs. Mississippi State 24

The Rebels lead their in-state rivals by 10 or more points four different times in Oxford Saturday, but it was almost not enough.

Mississippi State QB Will Rogers’ last-second Hail Mary attempt fell incomplete as time expired to give Ole Miss its first Egg Bowl win since 2017.

After punting to open the game, the Rebels scored on three of their next four possessions, which consisted of a rushing score by back Snoop Conner sandwiched by two touchdown passes by QB Matt Corral, whose 81-yard bullet to WR Braylon Sanders on a crucial 3rd-and-18 was a thing of beauty and may have saved the game for Ole Miss.

A similar script played out in the second half, thanks in no small part to Rogers’ career-high 440 passing yards.

After a scoreless third, Ole Miss went up by two scores, 31-21, for the final time after Jerrion Ealy’s 8-yard run, only to have the Bulldogs mount another charge late in the fourth.

It’s a record-setting season for Corral — one we’ve documented here before — and he’s been notably impressive since a horrendous performance against Arkansas in which he threw six picks.

In his last four games, Corral has thrown nine touchdown passes versus only two interceptions, and he’s rushed for three scores. And the Rebels are one head-scratching non-review call away from being undefeated during that span.