Clear Your Schedule – SEC, Week 11

By Brian Wilmer -
Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel leads A&M into Tuscaloosa. Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE

We normally start each week by recapping the last week in the conference, but this week, we will dedicate some time to recapping the life and story of a true legend of the game. Hall of Famer Darrell Royal left us on Wednesday, and though he is probably best known for his time at Texas, the namesake of the Longhorns’ stadium actually started his career coaching in the SEC. Royal was 12-8 in two seasons (1954 and 1955) as Mississippi State’s head coach before heading off to Washington and eventually the job for which he is best known.

Royal compiled a 17-3 record against former Southwestern Conference (and current SEC member) Texas A&M during his time in Austin, and though many consider the Red River Shootout the primary Texas rivalry, the Lone Star Showdown will forever hold great meaning to fans of both schools. Royal was also a practitioner of the wishbone at Texas, and helped to hire the current Longhorn leader, Mack Brown. Royal helped to inspire many who followed him on and off the field, and his impact across the game is still felt today, 36 years after he coached his final game. Darrell Royal was 88.

Rest in peace, Coach.

On to the rest of the SEC — but first, some trivia!

SEC Trivia, Week 11 (answer at the end of the article): Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is 4-17 in Southeastern Conference play since taking over the Volunteers. How many coaches of those four teams have since resigned or been fired?

Top of the Ratings

#15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2) at #1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0), 3:30pm ET, CBS

Last week’s episode: Texas A&M 38, Mississippi State 13; Alabama 21, LSU 17

Program guide: Though A&M is a two-loss team in the conference and overall, this is going to be one of the more compelling matchups you will see all season. Kevin Sumlin and his team have certainly been up to the task in their first year of SEC play, averaging 44.7 points a game on offense. That offense faces the top-ranked scoring defense in the SEC in the Crimson Tide, who allow a stingy 9.1 points per game.

We have dedicated so much column space this year to Johnny Manziel, but he obviously bears further mention as the clear leader of the Aggie offensive attack. It is likely fair to say that Alabama has not seen a quarterback like this all year, as Manziel continues to lead the conference in rushing (102.44 yards per game), ranks third in passing (280.8 yards per game) and is in the top four in rushing touchdowns, passing touchdowns and total offense. Zach Mettenberger had one of his better efforts of the year last week against the Tide, completing 24-of-35 passes for 298 yards and a score. Manziel is second in the conference in completion percentage, eight points ahead of Mettenberger and just .1 behind Alabama’s AJ McCarron. The Aggies piled up a ridiculous 693 yards of offense against Mississippi State last week, including two 100-yard rushers (Manziel and Ben Malena). No one should expect that type of output again this week, but Alabama certainly has cause for concern.

Speaking of Alabama, they were mere minutes from suffering their first loss of the season before scoring with just over a minute left to defeat LSU. Alabama had fewer first downs (22-18), offensive yards (435-331), turnovers (2-0), third down conversions (1-of-9 for Alabama, 10-of-20 for LSU) and passing yards (296-165) than the Tigers, but still escaped Death Valley with the victory. Though LSU outgained Alabama, Alabama had a better yards per play average, led once again by their running attack. Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon combined to rush 22 times for 159 yards in the victory.

That Alabama defense is still there, though. The same Alabama defense that allows under 10 points a game on the season, the one that allows 66.33 rushing yards a game and the team that leads the conference in total defense — with the nearest competitor 25 yards per game away — will face off against the Aggies in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has allowed 17 points to an opponent exactly once all year. That one time, of course, was last week. Whether Johnny Manziel and his club can make it twice remains to be seen, but keep an eye on one thing in this game. Texas A&M started strong and controlled the tempo in the first half against Florida in College Station, but faded in the second half. They also jumped out strong against LSU, only to let that early advantage slip away. If the Aggies can start strong and maintain that momentum throughout, they arguably have a better shot than did LSU of coming away with a win.

#21 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2) at #7 LSU (7-2, 3-2), 7:00pm ET, ESPN

Last week’s episode: Texas A&M 38, Mississippi State 13; Alabama 21, LSU 17

Program guide: It is an odd coincidence that the two teams who lost last week are the undercard to the two teams who won, but such are the circumstances in this matchup. The winner keeps their faint Cotton Bowl (or SEC Championship, in LSU’s case) hopes alive, while the loser is in serious trouble. LSU, as we mentioned, got a solid effort from Zach Mettenberger in last week’s loss, while Mississippi State has been outscored 76-20 in losing their last two after a 7-0 start to the season.

The Bulldog defense has given up 1107 yards of total offense in those two losses, and they now find themselves up against another great team in Baton Rouge. LSU ranks third in the conference in rushing yards (200.67 yards per game), and Texas A&M ran for 361 last week. Jeremy Hill ran for 107 yards against Alabama’s monster rush defense, and stopping him will be a tremendous challenge for Dan Mullen’s club. Zach Mettenberger will also look to continue his momentum against a middling Bulldog pass defense.

Mississippi State’s LaDarius Perkins is still a top-three offensive performer in the league, but his numbers have also taken a severe hit in the last two weeks. Perkins carried 15 times for just 38 yards against the Aggies, and he has seen his per-game rushing total slip to 89.33 yards from the century mark just a couple of weeks ago. The timing of Perkins’ struggles coincides with those of Tyler Russell (19-for-30, 212 yards, TD, INT last week), leaving State looking for answers on both sides of the ball.

Turnovers have also fueled State’s recent slide, with four such giveaways plaguing the team during their recent two-game slide. The Bulldogs need to put some sustained drives on the board against the Tigers to rebuild their offensive confidence and keep their overworked defense off the field as much as possible. LSU, for their part, has not lost to Mississippi State in Baton Rouge in 21 seasons, and continued success on third down may be the key in this one. Les Miles’ club converted 50% of their third downs last week (10-for-20), enabling the Tigers to control the clock and the tempo — until the final drive, of course.

Set Your DVR

Arkansas (4-5) at #8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2), noon ET, CBS

Program guide: The Razorbacks head to Columbia after stepping outside the conference to take on Conference USA front-runner Tulsa. Arkansas won 19-15 in a well-played game that was most notable for quarterback Tyler Wilson’s ability to stay upright. The Golden Hurricane only sacked Wilson once, allowing him to stay in the pocket and complete 21-of-31 passes for 272 yards with an interception. Dennis Johnson continued his rushing prowess last week, rushing 22 times for 109 yards and two scores.

The bend-but-don’t-break approach taken by Arkansas last week — Tulsa racked up 328 yards of total offense but only converted 3-of-15 third downs — may need to be tweaked a bit against a South Carolina team that is down, but not out. We’ve all seen the gruesome injury suffered by Gamecock running back Marcus Lattimore during the club’s win in their last game against Tennessee two weeks ago, but as one would expect with a top-ten team, there are options for Steve Spurrier. Senior Kenny Miles and freshman Mike Davis have combined for just over 300 yards and two scores as change-of-pace backs, and they will now step up to take over the majority of the carries not handled by quarterback Connor Shaw.

Wilson and Johnson will have a considerable challenge against South Carolina’s ball-hawking front seven. Tennessee managed 381 passing yards in Columbia two weeks ago, but the Gamecocks were forced to compete without cornerback Akeem Auguste. Auguste will be back in this game, but the Razorbacks will still look to exploit the weakened and banged-up Carolina defense. Arkansas can still become bowl-eligible with wins in two of their final three (schedule), but with three ranked teams, the road appears rough.

UL Lafayette (5-3) at #6 Florida (8-1), 12:21pm ET, SEC Network (regional)

Program guide: Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns jump out of Sun Belt play to head to Gainesville for this contest against the Gators. Most people know all about Florida, but ULL has some talent that is certainly worth a look. Sophomore quarterback Terrance Broadway has enjoyed a quite productive season (122-for-189, 1624 yards, 12 TD, 6 INT), and he almost single-handedly led his club to a win over in-state rival ULM last week. Broadway was 23-of-32 for 373 yards passing and four scores, while rushing for 87 more yards and a fifth total touchdown. He is accompanied by running backs Torrey Pierce (13 carries, 72 yards against ULM) and Alonzo Harris (17 carries, 61 yards, TD).

The Cajuns average 435 yards a game on offense, but allow almost the same (433) on defense. That defense only allows 138.63 yards per game on the ground, though, meaning Gator rusher Mike Gillislee may have a bit of a problem shaking loose for big runs. Florida struggled on both sides of the ball last week in a reasonably ugly 14-7 victory over Missouri. Gillislee accounted for only 68 rushing yards, while quarterback Jeff Driskel went 12-for-23 for 106 yards and a touchdown. The more glaring concern was the the 23 first downs and 335 yards in total offense accrued by the Tigers. Had Missouri not turned the ball over four times, the result may have been far less favorable for Florida. Though Louisiana is not expected to win in The Swamp, this might be a fun game to keep an eye on.

Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3) at Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3), 7:00pm ET, ESPNU

Program guide: You may recall my mentioning a couple of weeks ago that Vandy’s schedule favorably lined up to get them to this point, and here they are. Three straight wins against lesser opponents have the Commodores on the verge of another bowl bid. The most recent of those three, last week’s whitewashing of Kentucky, saw James Franklin’s club put 447 yards of offense and 29 first downs on the board. That performance was likely the last straw for Wildcat coach Joker Phillips, who was relieved of his duties earlier in the week. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers continues to find his stride, completing 18-of-29 passes for 220 yards, adding two touchdowns and a pick.

That regained offensive prowess heads to Oxford this week to take on a Mississippi team also looking to make a bowl trip in coach Hugh Freeze’s first year leading the Rebels. Freeze’s club will see five defensive starters slowed or out due to injury for Saturday’s contest, and that unit was blasted in last week’s 37-10 loss to Georgia between the hedges. Georgia compiled 533 total offensive yards, with 384 of that total through the air. Things were no easier on offense for the Rebs, rushing for just 46 yards, though quarterback Bo Wallace continued his efficient ways (16-for-25, 187 yards, TD, INT).  If Mississippi can control the tempo on offense and regain some semblance of their rushing game, this may be still in question as the final drive begins. Keep in mind, though, that Vandy has enjoyed a lot of recent success against Ole Miss. They will look to make it five wins in the last six games against the Rebels in this one.

Fast Forward

Missouri (4-5, 1-5) at Tennessee (4-5, 0-5), 12:21pm ET, SEC Network (regional)

Program guide: Believe it or not, this is the absolute truth: both teams are still in the mix for a bowl bid. Sure, the notion of two teams with a combined 1-10 SEC record still being alive for a postseason game is almost laughable, but the math — if not practicality — actually works. The Volunteers close the season with Kentucky at Neyland Stadium after making the trip to Vanderbilt, so they are in particularly good shape if they manage to knock off the Tigers. Missouri closes the season with Syracuse and a trip to Kyle Field to face Texas A&M, so a win here and against the Orange next week lets the Tigers breathe a bit easier.

Missouri, as we mentioned, fell 14-7 to Florida last week, and they won almost every offensive category in doing so. One area in which they did not do so well was James Franklin’s passing. Franklin threw the ball 51 times against the Gators, completing 28. The unfortunate part was that four of those completions went to Gator defenders. Franklin did throw for 236 yards and rush for 29 on the game, which helped make up for Kendial Lawrence’s 34-yard, one touchdown performance. Freshman star Dorial Green-Beckham caught six passes for 73 yards to add to the offensive output.

Missouri’s defense allowed just 276 yards of total offense to Florida, or over two-and-a-half times less than Tennessee’s 718-yard total in a 55-48 victory over Troy. While the Vols’ offensive total was impressive, the 721 yards they allowed to the Trojans was equally unimpressive. The two teams combined for 69 first downs, 1024 passing yards and 107 passing attempts. Tyler Bray threw for 530 yards and five touchdowns, while Marlin Lane rushed 19 times for 132 yards and two trips to the end zone. Derek Dooley’s club is last or next-to-last in the conference in every major defensive category, and if James Franklin can simply keep from throwing the ball to the guys in orange jerseys, things look somewhat good for his club.

#5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1) at Auburn (2-8, 0-6), 7:00pm ET, ESPN2

Program guide: We spoke earlier of coaches on the hot seat, and few seats are hotter than that of Gene Chizik at Auburn. Rumors began to fly early Thursday that Auburn had “begun the process of replacing” Chizik — whatever that means — and the names of potential new Tiger bosses began to litter message boards everywhere. Auburn still (as of press time, at least) has their current coach to lead them against the Bulldogs this weekend, and freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace will try to lead his team to a gigantic upset on the plains. Wallace did not have to throw much last week against a struggling New Mexico State team, going just 9-of-16 for 164 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Auburn added 311 rushing yards last week, including two 100-yard rushers in Tre Mason (152 yards and a score) and Ontario McCalebb (113 yards, two touchdowns).

Georgia’s run defense falls squarely in the middle of the pack in the conference, allowing 144 yards per game on the ground. Auburn ranks last in rushing against SEC opponents, however, averaging 90.58 yards per game. This may be a moot point, however, as the Bulldogs hammered Ole Miss last week, led mainly by Aaron Murray’s 21-for-28 performance. Murray threw for 384 yards and four TDs in the victory. Todd Gurley again took on the role of Georgia’s featured back, rushing 18 times for 117 yards. Auburn allows 204 rushing yards per game to SEC opponents, and if things stay true to form, they will see heavy doses of Gurley, Keith Marshall and that Bulldog rushing attack.

Trivia answer: Three of the four coaches Derek Dooley has beaten in SEC play have resigned or been fired (Vandy’s Robbie Caldwell, Ole Miss’ Houston Nutt and Kentucky’s Joker Phillips).

Brian Wilmer is a contributor to and Stadium Journey. Follow him @sportsmatters.

Comments (2)

a&m/bama will be a good, low scoring-ish game. i dont think a&m can make enough needed “big plays” to have a realistic shot though.

bama- 27
a&m- 15

Very comprehensive review.I like your breakdown on how and what teams need to do to win.The Ala.-A&M game will be instrumental in seeing how the conference championship will shake out.I expect to see Alabama win,but it should be a good contest.Thanks for your comments on Coach Royal.He is a true legend that people of my age grew up with,and he will be missed.A great coach,and apparently,a great human being as well.