Sunday, November 22, 2009
What we learned in the SEC: Week 12
By Chris Low
We’re down to this: One more week of football remaining to determine if Alabama and Florida will meet in the SEC championship game as unbeaten teams.
The Crimson Tide and Gators are coming off “scrimmages” and should be rested for their big rivalry games this weekend.
Ole Miss seems to be getting hot at just the right time for the second straight season. They’re just plain hot in Georgia after the Bulldogs’ 34-27 home loss to Kentucky, and who knows what they’re thinking on the Bayou after one of the worst mismanagements of a late-game clock situation by LSU in recent SEC history?
Here’s a look at what we learned in the SEC in Week 12:
1. Running backs galore: It’s been a while since the SEC had this many good running backs putting up these kind of numbers in the same season. Picking the top two for first-team All-SEC honors is going to be a chore. Five guys can stake a claim. Alabama’s Mark Ingram has 1,399 rushing yards, averages 6.8 yards per carry and has 15 touchdowns. Mississippi State’s Anthony Dixon has 1,258 rushing yards, averages 5.5 yards per carry and has 11 touchdowns. Auburn’s Ben Tate has 1,209 rushing yards, averages 5.4 yards per carry and has eight touchdowns. Tennessee’s Montario Hardesty has 1,127 rushing yards, averages 5 yards per carry and has 10 touchdowns. Ole Miss’ Dexter McCluster has 903 rushing yards, averages 6.9 yards per carry and has nine touchdowns. McCluster also has 412 receiving yards. How do you pick just two?
2. It’s a Big Blue world: If Kentucky does this coming Saturday what it’s failed to do every year since 1984 – and that’s beat Tennessee – the SEC Coach of the Year award this season should take its rightful place in Lexington, Ky. The more you watch this team play, the more respect you gain for what Rich Brooks has done. The Wildcats proved yet again in their 34-27 win over Georgia how resourceful they are, how resilient they are and how they simply don’t give up -- sort of like how Brooks never gave up on this program several years ago when everybody else had given up on him. A win over the Vols at home this coming weekend would give the Wildcats their first eight-win regular season since 1984, quite an accomplishment when you consider all the injuries this team has endured this season.
3. Chaotic clock management: You could watch football for a long time (at any level) and not see a worse butchering of an end-of-game situation than what you saw from LSU on Saturday in its 25-23 loss to Ole Miss. And let’s face it: Les Miles has played with fire before in these situations. Remember the touchdown pass to Demetrius Byrd with one second left against Auburn in 2007? He got away with that one, but not this time. There was zero direction on the LSU sideline in that final minute against Ole Miss. Sure, Jordan Jefferson should have never taken that sack on second down, but he never should have been throwing the ball in the first place. Jefferson’s comments afterward were telling. He said confusion reigned and admitted that he “didn’t know what to do.” There were so many mistakes by the LSU offensive staff that the hardest part is trying to figure out where to start. The Tigers wasted 17 seconds before calling a timeout after the third-down play. They inexplicably didn’t try to run the ball after getting to the Ole Miss 32 with 1:04 to play. They didn’t have a plan in place for the final play. And even in the postgame press conference after all the chaos had ended, Miles seemed as lost in trying to explain it all as he did when it was all melting down around him on the sideline. The truth is there isn’t any explaining this one.
4. From bad to worse for Georgia: There was already a black cloud hovering over Georgia’s football program. This season hadn’t been what anybody wanted, but then the Bulldogs went out and lost to Kentucky … at home. Not only did they lose, but they dominated the statistics and still managed to lose. But that’s what happens when you turn the ball over four times in the second half and have 75 penalty yards for the game. The Bulldogs (6-5, 4-4) are staring squarely into the face of their first non-winning regular season since Jim Donnan’s first season in Athens in 1996. The Bulldogs might not be one of the top two most talented teams in the SEC, but they’re certainly one of the top three or four. Talent is not Georgia’s problem. It’s focus. It’s execution. It’s player development and it’s discipline. When you commit as many penalties as the Bulldogs have the past two seasons and turn the ball over as many times as they have this season (26), it’s obvious that there’s a decay in the program somewhere that has to be addressed. Mark Richt has been as classy as they come and as consistent as they come. But if he doesn’t address this decay with more than just cosmetic changes, then it’s going to be addressed for him.
5. Brantley looks the part: It was only for part of the second half and the Gators were up by something like 22 touchdowns, but this just in: Backup quarterback John Brantley can throw it. He’s a better pure passer than Tim Tebow and will add a dimension to the Gators’ passing game next season that they simply don’t have right now. Again, it was mop-up duty, but you talk to enough people in and around the Florida program, and there’s a quiet confidence about some of the things they’re going to be able to do next season with Brantley at the helm. Of course, you give up Tebow’s third-down prowess and his ability to make all the clutch plays with his legs and arm, and you also give up his incredible will to win and the impact that he's had on the rest of his teammates. But Brantley’s polished enough throwing the football that the Gators aren’t going to go quietly into the night next season when Tebow departs. In fact, Brantley might be the third or fourth best quarterback in the SEC right now.