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SEC Recap: Week Twelve

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Fog and shoe-throwing in The Swamp, tempered expectations in CoMo, more history in Nashville, and no more Gus at Auburn

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Florida
Despite everything that happened on its home field — including a chucked cleat and a layer of fog that blinded even the telecasters — Florida still had a shot to beat LSU as time expired, but kicker Even McPherson’s 51-yarder drifted wide left.

Georgia 49 vs. Missouri 14

When asked in his post-game press conference what the loss to Georgia revealed about his program, Eli Drinkwitz set up his answer by expressing pride in the way his team fought Saturday.

He, then, provided very a concise explanation for why his team was blown out by the ninth-ranked Bulldogs.

“We don’t have enough depth,” Drinkwitz said.

That’s coachspeak for not enough talent.

This COVID-shortened season has been anything but lacking for intoxicating moments for the Missouri football program. The goal line stand against LSU. Somewhat sadistic payback versus Kentucky. The schizophrenic/Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of the historic comeback win in the Battle Line Rivalry.

Each a suggestion that the program is clearly headed in the right direction, and each a clear indicator that Drinkwitz — harshly bullied behind the 8-ball by the pandemic and NCAA restrictions — could be more capable than any Mizzou coach in recent memory to get more out of what he has at his disposal.

The 5-3 record occurred unexpectedly. The resulting College Football Playoff ranking — and first since 2018 — even more so.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Missouri
Georgia did a lot of celebrating Saturday while Missouri players watched, but the Bulldogs’ 49-14 beatdown was a wakeup call that the Tigers still have a ways to go.

Drinkwitz and his staff needed a game like this, if for no other reason than to sober them and the rest of us up. The accolades prior to yesterday are noteworthy, but it’s hard to argue that they’re any more valuable than the lessons learned against Georgia

Building a winning culture sometimes necessitates measuring stick losses.

As was the case with Drinkwitz’s predecessors, the gap that separates Missouri from elite programs lies in recruiting, especially along both lines of scrimmage, and, I would argue, in the secondary. And it wouldn’t hurt to stock up a little more on the skilled positions.

On the right day, as we saw in Athens in 2013, Missouri can beat a ranked Bulldogs team, but talent has ruled this series ever since, and it’s no fluke that Georgia has won eight of the nine matchups.

Drinkwitz’s early returns on the recruiting front have been impressive, if not downright shocking, so the talent gap between Missouri and teams like Georgia and Florida could be closing soon.

In the meantime, we’re all reminded that this season is but the first step in that process.

Alabama 52 vs. Arkansas 3

Alabama walks away with the national championship, and I’m not sure it will have much trouble doing so.

Clemson needs Trevor Lawrence. Notre Dame and Ohio State need Ian Book and Justin Fields, respectively. Kellen Mond, a game manager in the truest sense of the word, would be nothing without A&M’s running game. The inverse is true with Florida, which is all Kyle Trask.

On Saturday in Fayetteville, albeit it against inferior competition, the Tide needed only a running back with a pulse.

QB Mac Jones threw for a season-low 208 yards and no scores. Jones’ numbers this season are either on par with or exceed those of Tua Tagovailoa last season, but he’s thrown for fewer than 300 yards in a game four times

In those games, Alabama has won by an average of more than 42 points. When Jones throws for 300 or more, the Tide wins by just over 26.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Arkansas
A season-low 208 yards from QB Mac Jones was more than enough for the Tide offense to roll Arkansas and win for the 14th consecutive time in the series.

DeVonta Smith returned a punt for a touchdown — uh, that’s what we call Heisman-worthy versatility a la Charles Woodson — but he was otherwise invisible, producing his lowest overall output in a game in 14 months.

The Tide offense didn’t need either Saturday — or any other offensive skilled player, for that matter.

Alabama rushed for six scores against Arkansas, including three from backup running back Brian Robinson, Jr. and another from freshman third-stringer Jase McClellan, who led the team with 95 yards on only six attempts.

Yes, it was the prime example of one team completely physically and athletically overwhelming another — which Alabama has arguably done in almost every game this season — but the hidden meaning here is that Alabama is not only game, but able, to play any style you want — and still win by at least three scores.

LSU 37 vs. Florida 34

Poor Marco Wilson.

The Florida cornerback would probably be kicking himself right now if he didn’t feel so sick.

The harsh reality of his boneheaded shoe-throwing blunder is that it cost the Gators their season. What were very legitimate Playoff aspirations prior to the loss to unranked LSU are now gone, and not even a win next week over top-ranked Alabama in the SEC title game would pull the Gators within reaching distance of the top four.

Not surprisingly, Wilson has since been the fodder for many on social media, where memes are outnumbered only by the uncalled-for vitriol from fans, including those who took time out of their days to chide Wilson’s father, whose tweet late Saturday night was a clear preemptive attempt to tell the mob that no one feels worse about the gaffe than his son.

Alas, it’s 2020, and nothing says 2020 more than the entire Playoff picture getting disrupted by the cleat of a reserve tight end — one of only 54 scholarship players to make the trip for the Tigers — whose fourth catch ever leads to a career-long 57-yard field goal from Cade York, whose kicking prowess is matched only by his ability to see the uprights through a thick sheet of Swamp fog.

Oh, and this all happened seven days after LSU suffered the worst loss by a defending national champion in the AP poll era.

Tennessee 42 vs. Vanderbilt 17

If they’re lucky, Saturday signaled the end of the season for the Commodores.

Whether or not next week’s finale versus Georgia takes place doesn’t really matter. Either way, the ‘Dores will finish 2020 winless and have now lost 13 consecutive SEC games, their longest such streak since 2003.

COVID has ravaged the Vanderbilt roster all year. Combine that with the dismissal of Derek Mason, which resulted in several players exiting the program, and only 49 scholarship players dressed Saturday against Tennessee, a total well below the SEC’s recommendation of 53.

One of those scholarship players was not kicker Sarah Fuller, but in the course of creating college football history, she has provided a reason for those within the Vandy program to reflect upon what has otherwise been a very forgettable season.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Vanderbilt
The history-making play of Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller has served as a glimmer of light amid an overall dreary and dim season of football in Nashville.

Fuller became the first woman to score in a Power Five game when she kicked an extra point in the first quarter.

Her historic accomplishment tied the game at seven, and Vanderbilt proceeded to take the lead following a successful 39-yard attempt from Fuller’s kicking partner, Pierson Cooke, who was designated for longer field goals against the Vols.

Tennessee dominated the remainder of the game to end its six-game losing streak and perhaps save the job of Jeremy Pruitt, whose fate seems to be hanging in the balance as athletics director Philip Fulmer — who hired Pruitt just three years ago — remains mum on his plans for the program past next week’s finale against Texas A&M.

Auburn 24 vs. Mississippi State 10

Auburn running back Tank Bigsby ran for a career-high 192 yards and finishes the season with the second-highest rushing total (834) among all freshmen at the position.

And it came against what is, statistically, the SEC’s fourth-best run defense, no doubt the single biggest feather in the cap right now for Mike Leach, whose signature offense scored 20 or fewer points in a game for the fifth time this season.

In fact, since that 44-34 opening win at LSU, the Bulldogs have only scored 112 points in eight games, an average of only two touchdowns.

That’s really all we need to know about this one.

Aside from the fact that Auburn fired Gus Malzahn Sunday afternoon to the tune of more than $21 million.

On the other side, Leach’s inaugural SEC season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan — or maybe it has. The offense is currently ranked 11th nationally in passing offense and dead last in rushing offense, a contrast that has come to define Leach’s scheme but one he is finding out doesn’t fly as well as it did in the Pac-12.