For all the drama that seemed to exist in the SEC East, all it took was a few short hours to almost completely eliminate that drama. Division leader Missouri throttled Florida’s top-three defense to the tune of 500 yards in a 36-17 victory. The Gators’ offensive performance (151 total yards, 3-15 on third down) was enough for coach Will Muschamp to call the unit “inept”. Losses in the Volunteer State by Georgia and South Carolina rendered both clubs’ chances to represent their division in Atlanta nearly nonexistent. A Missouri victory this week sends the Tigers to play for a BCS berth.
An LSU loss at Ole Miss and an Auburn victory in College Station means that, if all holds, the Iron Bowl will likely determine who heads to Atlanta from the SEC West. The Tigers have made incredible strides from their lost 2012 season, including hanging 615 yards of total offense on the Aggies at Kyle Field last week. Auburn still has four conference games remaining, including the Iron Bowl, so penciling them in for a December date in the Georgia Dome seems a bit presumptuous. The one thing we know is that there will be some electricity on the plains on November 30th, no matter what happens.
We’ll take a look around this week’s conference slate, but first, a trivia question!
SEC Trivia, Week 9 (answer at the end of the column): Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray completed 16 of his 28 passes last week for 114 yards last week against Vanderbilt, marking his third-lowest single-game yardage total as a Bulldog. What was his lowest single-game total?
Top of the Ratings
#21 South Carolina (5-2, 3-2 SEC) at #5 Missouri (7-0, 3-0 SEC), 7pm ET, ESPN2
Last week’s episode: Tennessee 23, South Carolina 21; Missouri 36, Florida 17
Program guide: If this game had been played last week, there would have been a lot more consequence attached. This game still has a lot of meaning, however; either Missouri locks up a spot in Atlanta, or keeps the Gamecocks’ razor-thin hopes of a division title alive. South Carolina has just two conference games remaining after facing off against the Tigers (Mississippi State and Florida, both in Columbia), while Missouri gets Tennessee at home and travels to Kentucky and Ole Miss.
The Gamecocks will start Dylan Thompson under center in the “western” Columbia on Saturday night, as Connor Shaw recovers from injury. Thompson, who has experienced reasonable success in relief of Shaw in several outings, is 29-of-51 for 421 yards this season, with two each in the score and pick categories. Thompson has the benefit of Mike Davis lining up behind him. Davis leads the SEC in rushing (125.57 yards per game, 10 TD), and is the only back who averages more yards than Missouri’s run defense allows (116.57).
Missouri’s offensive performance against Florida last week was made all the more impressive by the fact that they only had 13 more plays on offense than did Florida. Maty Mauk’s passing numbers in the game may not seem all that impressive (18-of-36, 295 yards, one touchdown, one interception), but consider this fact. Florida had not allowed even a 200-yard passing effort this season, much less a nearly 300-yard game. The Tigers also got a 136-yard rushing game from Henry Josey, who joined Mauk in tallying touchdowns on the ground.
South Carolina absolutely must get Jadeveon Clowney up the field to put pressure on Mauk and force bad throws. The more comfortable Mauk can get, the more time he will have to read through his progressions and find his best option. Mauk has a number of lethal options from which to choose, as well. The Gamecocks rank 19th in the nation (third in the SEC) in passing defense, allowing just shy of 200 yards per game. Missouri has a chance to use the run game to soften the Gamecock defense and bring the safeties toward the box, with the hope of getting — and winning — one-on-one matchups.
Missouri, on the other hand, is considerably more adept at stopping the run (19th) than the pass (100th), last week’s game notwithstanding. South Carolina does not offer much in terms of big, physical receivers, but they do have playmakers in Damiere Byrd and Bruce Ellington. Both receivers have the same ability to shake man coverage and slip between the corner and safety help that Missouri’s receivers have, as well as the occasional habit of coming across the formation and picking up chunks of yardage against slower second-level defenders. If Missouri cannot get the run game untracked, they may have some opportunities to “extend” the run game with quick slant and stick routes to Byrd and Ellington.
Whether we know after the 60 minutes in Columbia who will represent the SEC East in Atlanta or not, the only regret we will likely have at the final whistle is that we did not get to see both clubs at full strength.
Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 SEC) at Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2 SEC), 7:30pm ET Thursday, ESPN
- There’s no place like home: The Bulldogs have gotten the job done at Davis Wade Stadium this year. Mississippi State has held opponents to 121.5 fewer yards per game on their own turf, while gaining 125.3 more yards at home than on the road. MSU averages 499.3 yards per game in Starkville.
- There’s no place like the road…sorta: Kentucky averages 360 yards per game on the road, averaging just 348.5 at Commonwealth Stadium. The Wildcats’ defense is considerably more porous away from Lexington, though, allowing 470 yards per game on the road, versus just 421 at home.
- Goodbye streaks?: Kentucky and Mississippi State are both winless in conference play in 2013. The teams have combined for an 0-5 conference record. One of these streaks is guaranteed to go by the boards on Thursday, but one more is in play. The Wildcats have not beaten the Bulldogs since 2008. Kentucky’s last two wins against Mississippi State came in Starkville, however (2006 and 2008).
Vanderbilt (4-3, 1-3 SEC) at #16 Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2 SEC), 12:21pm ET, SEC Network
- Loving the Lone Star State: The Commodores have played 31 games against Texas teams in their program’s history. They own victories over North Texas, Rice, SMU, TCU and Texas. The Commodores and Aggies have never faced off on the field.
- We’re going streaking: Texas A&M has scored 40 or more points in ten straight games, which is the longest-such active streak. ACC member Clemson registered a streak of seven straight and nine of ten games last season.
- A (nearly) clean sweep: The Aggies lead the Commodores in almost every possible statistical category. Vanderbilt holds the lead in average interception return yardage, fourth-down completion percentage, time of possession, sacks and red zone conversion percentage.
Tennessee (4-3, 1-2 SEC) at #1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC), 3:30pm ET, CBS
- Roll(ed over) Tide: Tennessee’s most recent victory over Alabama came in 2006. The Vols scored a 16-13 home victory over the Tide. Tennessee hasn’t scored more than 17 points in a game against Alabama in ten years. That 2003 game resulted in a 51-43, five-overtime victory for Phil Fulmer’s Volunteers.
- 111: This seemingly random number represents an incredible statistic. Alabama has allowed 111 fewer touchdowns than the average FBS team since 2009. The Tide have allowed just 77 touchdowns in that period. They are the only team in that timeframe to allow fewer than 100 touchdowns.
- You can put it on the board: Tennessee has gone 237 games (since September 17, 1994) without being shut out. Alabama has recorded nine shutouts in this decade alone.
Furman (3-4) at #13 LSU (6-2, 3-2 SEC), 7pm ET, PPV
- Separation anxiety: The Paladins forced eight fumbles (four lost) in a 27-10 victory over Southern Conference (FCS) foe Appalachian State in Greenville, SC last week. The Mountaineers will be leaving FCS after this year to join the Sun Belt and the Football Bowl Subdivision, marking the final time the two will meet as FCS opponents. Furman defensive end Gary Wilkins also intercepted a wide receiver pass from Andrew Peacock and returned it 98 yards for a score. This was the second-longest interception return in school history, topped only by John Keith’s 99-yarder against Chattanooga in 1997.
- A history of competition: Furman has not exactly been — to use Will Muschamp’s word — inept against FBS-level competition. The Paladins own 27 victories against teams currently in the SEC, including 20 wins over South Carolina. None of those victories occurred after South Carolina joined the conference, however (Furman’s most recent victory over the Gamecocks came in 1982). Furman’s most recent FBS victory came in a 28-3 decision over North Carolina in 1999.
- Unblemished: LSU has never lost (8-0) against FCS clubs. Four of those victories have come against SoCon opponents (Western Carolina in 2000, The Citadel in 2002 and Appalachian State in 2005 and 2008). The Tigers won those games by a combined score of 158-23.
Florida Atlantic (2-5) at #11 Auburn (6-1, 3-1 SEC), 7:30pm ET, FSN
- The century club: Auburn has featured four different single-game 100-yard rushers this season. They join Air Force, Minnesota, Arkansas State and Ohio State as the only FBS teams to have accomplished this feat. Florida Atlantic ranks 84th in the FBS in rush defense, allowing 181.43 yards per game.
- Wise beyond his years: FAU center Mustafa Johnson is the seventh-oldest player in the FBS (age 27). Johnson worked in a warehouse for a retailer for three years before going to Riverside Community College to play football, then on to Florida Atlantic.
- Just once: The schools’ only meeting took place in 2011. Auburn defeated FAU 30-14 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Current Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris led the Owls in rushing (15 carries, 85 yards) and receiving (four receptions, 43 yards, one touchdown).
Idaho (1-6) at Ole Miss (4-3, 2-3 SEC), 7:30pm ET, CSS
- Oh, to be young again: Idaho has just eight starters returning from last year’s team. Those eight starters have 166 combined starts in their collegiate careers.
- Missing weapons: Ole Miss, already down Robert Nkemdiche due to injury, will also be missing tight end Evan Engram (20 catches, 265 yards, three touchdowns). Engram will miss the remainder of the season due to an ankle injury.
- Vandal struggles: Idaho ranks 124th (next-to-last) in the FBS in total defense, allowing 540.9 yards per game. The Vandals have been outscored 302-115 on the season. Opposing rushers have outrushed Idaho 1536-990.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray completed 16 of his 28 passes last week for 114 yards last week against Vanderbilt, marking his third-lowest single-game yardage total as a Bulldog. What was his lowest single-game total?
Murray was 11-for-31 for just 109 yards in a 35-7 loss at South Carolina in 2012. He averaged just 3.5 yards per attempt in the game. The Bulldogs posted 224 yards of total offense against the Gamecocks in the contest.