There’s never really a good week for yours truly to step away from opining (being wrong, whatever you want to call it) about the SEC, and last week was no exception. While I was out, Kentucky earned their first conference win in over two years with a 10-point decision over Vanderbilt in Lexington. South Carolina’s defense seemed to join me on vacation toward the end of their 21-20 loss to Missouri. Tennessee and Georgia played an absolute classic. And finally, one might argue that the referee who called the tripping penalty on Arkansas against A&M was tripping more than the actual alleged tripper. That was way too many uses of “trip” and its variants in one sentence. Let’s move on.
Six games await us in the SEC this weekend, and what a slate we have to enjoy. Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi will feature some of the best football we’ll see all weekend. You’ll hear all the tired “Separation Saturday” tropes all weekend, but the reality is that, for as much as people want to proclaim the SEC’s reign over, the road to Atlanta will begin to be paved on Saturday. Without further delay, let’s ask our trivia question and proceed to our loaded schedule!
SEC Trivia, Week 6 (answer at the end of the column): Kentucky’s win over Vanderbilt last week gave the Wildcats their first conference victory since 2011. Against which team did Kentucky get that 2011 victory, and what was its significance?
Top of the Ratings
Much like the ACC, we will not have a Top of the Ratings game this week. (I did, however, accidentally omit the “Print that, tweet that, whatever” feature, so we’ll fix that.) It could be argued that each conference game could be a marquee matchup this week, so we will give them all equal billing. Therefore, on to the…
Keyword Search (all times Eastern, all rankings AP)
#6 Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0 SEC) at #12 Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0 SEC)
Noon | ESPN
- Deceiving defensive numbers: These two clubs are nestled behind Arkansas (129 points allowed), surrendering the second and third-highest point totals of any team in the SEC West. That statistic means little on its face, however, as A&M (75 points allowed) and Mississippi State (66 points allowed) permit fewer than 17 points per game. The Aggies have outscored the Bulldogs by 91 points in one additional game, however.
- Sack lunch: A&M freshman Myles Garrett is fifth in the nation (second in the SEC) in sacks, recording 5.5 in the first five games of his collegiate career. Only Missouri’s Shane Ray (seven) has recorded a greater total among conference pass rushers. Garrett still has greater than half the season to eclipse the conference’s freshman sack record, which Jadeveon Clowney set in 2011 (eight).
- Now that we’ve talked about defense…: This game will feature two of the more high-powered offenses in the nation. Though Mississippi State struggles a bit through the air (45th in the FBS) and A&M struggles on the ground (43rd), the schools rank in the top 20 in every other major offensive category. Mississippi State last gained fewer than 500 yards in a game in last year’s Egg Bowl, notching just 296 yards in the 17-10 victory.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Mississippi State is the trendy upset pick by many pundits. Color me still skeptical.
Florida (2-1, 1-1 SEC) at Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC)
Noon | SEC Network
- Inky: I don’t normally veer away from actual game analysis in this space all that much, but this April 2013 speech was referenced on Twitter this week. It’s important enough to share, whether you’re a Volunteer fan or not. Trust me.
- Long time gone: Tennessee last scored a victory over Florida in 2004, defeating the Gators 30-28 in Neyland Stadium. The game was marked by a late penalty call on Florida’s Dallas Baker and a James Wilhoit field goal to win the game. Since that game, Tennessee has won the SEC East just once, taking home a co-championship (won on tiebreakers) in 2007. Whomever wins this game will own the series edge in Knoxville, as both clubs have walked off the field at Neyland Stadium victorious 11 times.
- The ultimate in outliers: Florida enters this game having allowed 672 yards to Alabama in a 42-21 loss two weeks ago. The Gators had only allowed 500 yards once in the last seven seasons (500 exactly to Missouri last season) before allowing their highest total in school history. The yardage total pushed Florida to 13th in the SEC in total defense (415.7 yards per game).
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Tennessee was so close to its “statement” win against Georgia. This may be the week to get one.
#3 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) at #11 Ole Miss (4-0, 1-0 SEC)
3:30pm | CBS
- Testing their mettle: Alabama closes the season with Mississippi State, Western Carolina and Auburn all within the comfortable confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Before they get there, though, all hell breaks loose. The Tide play in Oxford this weekend and at Arkansas before their schedule affords them a home visit from Texas A&M. Alabama then travels to Tennessee and LSU before that aforementioned home stretch to end the year.
- Speaking of tough stretches: Ole Miss gets no real respite the rest of the season, either. The weeks following this game find the Rebs traveling to Texas A&M before Tennessee comes to Vaught-Hemingway and Hugh Freeze’s team makes the trip to Death Valley. Home visits from Auburn and Presbyterian follow before a trip to Arkansas and the Egg Bowl.
- What gives?: Ole Miss leads the SEC in total defense (248 yards per game) and scoring defense (8.5 points per game). Only Stanford (6.5) and TCU (seven) allow fewer points per game among FBS schools. Alabama, on the other hand, is tied with Western Kentucky for fourth nationally (594.3 yards per game) in total offense. The Tide are tied (say that ten times fast) with Arizona State for 16th in scoring offense, tallying 42 points per game. The Rebels haven’t allowed fewer than 17 points to an Alabama team since 2003, and haven’t scored greater than 14 since 2008.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: These teams have played 59 times. Ole Miss’ win total has not yet reached double digits. That might change soon, if not now.
Vanderbilt (1-4, 0-3 SEC) at #13 Georgia (3-1, 1-1 SEC)
4:00pm | SEC Network
- In a bind: Vandy will likely be called upon to throw quite a bit this weekend, and they’ll do so with freshman quarterback Wade Freebeck. Freebeck has completed 20-of-47 passes (42.6 percent) for 256 yards, registering a touchdown against five picks. Among regular passers, only teammate Stephen Rivers (18-of-50) has a lesser completion percentage than does Freebeck.
- In a bigger bind: The Commodores are last in the conference in scoring offense (17 points per game) and scoring defense (34.8 points per game). VU is also last in the conference in rushing offense (106.2 yards per game), passing offense (148.4 yards per game), turnover margin (-6) and total offense (at 254.6 yards, their total is nearly 124 yards lower than the next team), and next-to-last in time of possession.
- That’s unfortunate: A headline in The Tennessean this week read, “Vanderbilt confident it can handle Todd Gurley”. Gurley averages 8.84 yards per carry and 152.5 yards per game, while averaging just 17.25 attempts per contest. Gurley’s average is bettered only by Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Pitt’s James Conner, Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. The Commodores are 69th in the FBS in rush defense, allowing 161.4 yards per game. Aside from UMass’ 88-yard outing, Vandy has surrendered 144 yards or greater on the ground in every game this year.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Vandy beat the ‘Dogs last year in Nashville. It’s Homecoming in Athens. Don’t expect a two-game streak.
#15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) at #5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0 SEC)
7:00pm | ESPN
- On a “C” note: LSU coach Les Miles is 99-25 in his time in Baton Rouge, with just a staggering four of those losses coming against non-conference opponents. Even more incredibly, Miles’ teams have been nationally-ranked for all but two of those games. Only Charles McClendon has greater than 100 wins as a Tiger head coach; he leads the pack with 137.
- Wasn’t Gus Malzahn supposed to be an offensive coach?: Auburn finds itself in the same defensive discussion as LSU these days, as Malzahn’s Tigers have surrendered just 16.3 points per game. Auburn’s sports information department points out that Auburn’s current streak of surrendering 21 or fewer points per game is the first such streak since 2007-2008.
- The winningest little village on the Plains: Auburn currently enjoys a 12-game winning streak in Jordan-Hare. Five straight sellout crowds have marched through the turnstiles on the Plains.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: As usual, QB play is key. Brandon Harris is good, but (relatively) untested. If Marshall finds running lanes, look out.
South Carolina (3-2, 2-2 SEC) at Kentucky (3-1, 1-1 SEC)
7:30pm | SEC Network
- An historic beginning: Kentucky’s sports information department mentions that the Wildcats have started 4-1 just eleven times since 1950. Further, it has been six years since Kentucky won their first four games at Commonwealth Stadium. The Wildcats have beaten the Gamecocks in Lexington just once in the 2000s, a 31-28 decision in 2010. The Spartanburg Herald-Journal’s Matt Connolly mentions that South Carolina has gone 13-1 against Kentucky since winning just four of their first eleven contests.
- Getting defensive: Mark Stoops came to Lexington with a tremendous reputation as a defensive coach, and that reputation is making itself known on the field. Kentucky is tied with Texas A&M for 13th in the FBS in scoring defense (15 points per game) and 25th in total defense (323 yards per game). Vanderbilt managed just 54 rushing yards and 85 passing yards in 47 plays against Kentucky in their most recent outing.
- One ‘dadgum’ incredible milestone: Just one coach in the FBS owns 20 wins against any school, and Steve Spurrier owns 20 wins against two schools. A victory for the Head Ball Coach in Lexington would give him 21 victories against UK, breaking the tie they currently “share” with Vanderbilt for most defeats against a Spurrier-coached club.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: The line on this game went from South Carolina minus-10 to around a field goal this week. Interesting.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Kentucky’s win over Vanderbilt last week gave the Wildcats their first conference victory since 2011. Against which team did Kentucky get that 2011 victory, and what was its significance?
Kentucky defeated Tennessee 10-7 in the Battle for the Barrel on Thanksgiving Day (November 24), 2011. The victory snapped a 26-game winning streak (1985-2010) by the Vols in the rivalry. That was, at the time, the longest active losing streak by an FBS school against a yearly opponent.