NCF Nation: Weekend rewind 100713

ACC weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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There were plenty of fireworks across the ACC this past weekend. There is now one fewer undefeated team, too. Here's a look back at the weekend that was in the conference as some teams reach the halfway point of their seasons.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston was unstoppable yet again, as the redshirt freshman is moving up Heisman watch lists.
The good: Jameis Winston and Tajh Boyd further solidified their standings among early-season Heisman Trophy contenders, and their teams now look destined for a collision course Oct. 19. Winston completed 23 of 32 passes for career-bests of 393 yards and five touchdowns, respectively. He also added 24 rushing yards in Florida State's 63-0 rout of Maryland. Meanwhile, Boyd completed 20 of 27 passes for 455 yards with touchdowns and two interceptions. The national spotlight will be on Death Valley once again in two weeks, as the game between the Seminoles and Tigers will have large implications in both the awards race and the national title race.

The bad: Virginia accounted for the ACC's lone nonconference loss Saturday, falling 48-27 to Ball State at home and again making its Week 1 win over BYU look more and more like a mirage. The Cavaliers were outscored 24-3 in the game's final 16 minutes as they fell below .500. Their normally stout defense surrendered 506 total yards of offense, a far cry from its stingy performance a week earlier in a 14-3 loss at Pitt. The Cavaliers remain just 0-1 in ACC play, but need answers fast if they hope to finish the season at .500 and go bowling.

The ugly: For as much credit as FSU deserves for its 63-0 rout of Maryland ... this game said plenty about the Terrapins, too. For one, they were ranked No. 25 coming in, and were 4-0. Secondly, they made all kinds of bad history. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Maryland was on the losing end of what is now tied for the largest margin of victory over a ranked team since the AP poll began in 1936. (UCLA beat No. 11 Texas 66-3 in 1997.) This was also the largest margin of defeat for any team in an ACC game in league play. Maryland entered the game No. 6 nationally in total defense and No. 3 in scoring defense. The Terps dropped to 22nd and 33rd, respectively.

The resurgence: Logan Thomas is beginning to look more and more like the Logan Thomas everyone expected from the Virginia Tech quarterback two years ago. And, more important, he has the Hokies looking like a viable Coastal Division contender. Thomas completed 19 of 28 throws for 293 yards against North Carolina, matching a career high with three touchdown passes in a 27-17 win to get to 2-0 in conference play. Thomas, who had miserable start to the season (48.5 percent completion rate, four touchdowns, six interceptions), has now churned out consecutive strong performances to open conference play, as he was coming off a win at Georgia Tech in which he started the game 9-for-9 and finished 19 of 25 for 221 yards and a touchdown.

The workhorse (again): Andre Williams just keeps going and going, and going some more. The senior helped Boston College eclipse last season's win total, as a 48-27 win over Army got the Eagles to 3-2 under first-year coach Steve Addazio. Williams carried the ball 30 times for career-bests of 263 yards and five touchdowns. The five scores tied Montel Harris' single-game school record. The 263 yards were one shy of Harris' single-game BC record, although Williams actually held the record for a very brief moment before losing a yard on his final carry of the game. Williams has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in four of five games this season, and he now leads the nation in rushing yards per game (153.6) and total carries (133) while ranking third in rushing yards (768).

The in-state stand: Few would have argued entering Saturday that Wake Forest was the worst team in the ACC. But the Demon Deacons reversed course against NC State, getting a huge lift from Tanner Price and Michael Campanaro to pull off the 28-13 upset. Surprisingly enough, it was Wake's sixth straight home win against the Wolfpack, who have not won in Winston-Salem, N.C., since 2001, when Philip Rivers was their quarterback. NC State looked to have a favorable road ahead of it after a 3-1 start (and close loss to Clemson), but the Pack now find themselves in an 0-2 hole in conference play. The imminent return of quarterback Brandon Mitchell should provide a boost.

The slide …: When will it end for North Carolina? The Tar Heels have now lost three in a row, and their next game is next Thursday at undefeated Miami. Marquise Williams got the surprise start at quarterback in place of Bryn Renner (foot) and was stellar, but he and the Tar Heels offense turned it over to Virginia Tech three times while generating zero takeaways, erasing what was the best offensive output against the Hokies this season (376 total yards). A block-in-the-back penalty on what would have been an 82-yard Ryan Switzer punt return marked the third straight week UNC had a touchdown revoked because of a penalty.

… and the surge: Miami is up to No. 13 in the country after improving to 5-0 with a 45-30 win over Georgia Tech, placing themselves in the driver's seat, along with Virginia Tech, of the Coastal Division. What was impressive this time around was the way the Hurricanes recovered when down 17-7, as they went on a 38-6 run over a 37-minute stretch -- against a very good Yellow Jackets defense -- to seize control of the game and win their conference opener. The win was big for the Sunshine State too, as Saturday marked the first time all seven of Florida's FBS teams won in the same day.

Welcome to the ACC: Syracuse surrendered a touchdown 38 seconds into its first-ever ACC game and never really could keep pace with Clemson in its 49-14 home loss, the Orange's first home loss since the start of last season after six straight wins. Hopes of pulling off another big home upset (Louisville in 2012, West Virginia in 2011) were washed away fairly early. Terrel Hunt struggled against good competition, going just 8-of-24 for 52 yards with three picks, while Scott Shafer lost his cool on the sideline when Dabo Swinney went for it on fourth down up 28 in the second quarter, though Shafer apologized after.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
11:00
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Taking stock of Week 6 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: The name of the game is winning, so Stanford gets the tip of that cap here, even if the Cardinal should feel fortunate to escape with a 31-28 win over Washington. The Huskies dominated nearly every statistic, most notably a 489 to 279 advantage in total yards and a 30-14 advantage in first downs. But coaches always talk about "all three phases," and that includes special teams, where Stanford held a decided and decisive advantage.

[+] EnlargeTy Montgomery
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsStanford receiver Ty Montgomery had a huge game versus Washington, returning a kickoff for a touchdown and adding another TD pass.
Best game: While UCLA's nail-biting win at Utah was pretty darn entertaining, college football fans who stayed up got a real treat with the Stanford-Washington game. It featured big plays on both sides of the ball, as well as fantastic individual performances. Even the controversial ending -- was there enough video evidence to overrule Keith Price's fourth-down "completion" to Kevin Smith? -- added intrigue as the Twitter debate lasted well into the wee hours of the morning.

Biggest play: Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery took the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against the Huskies. With the Cardinal offense struggling much of the night, those points would prove precious.

Offensive standout: Not everything can be about Stanford-Washington, and Washington State QB Connor Halliday turned in a gutty performance in the Cougars' 42-22 win at California. Despite suffering an upper-body injury -- shoulder? ribs? both? -- that knocked him out of the Stanford game the week before, Halliday passed for 521 yards against the Bears, which was just 10 yards short of the program record set by Alex Brink in 2005. He completed a school-record 41 passes on 67 attempts with three TDs and an interception. Further, the Cougs broke an eight-game losing streak in Berkeley -- they hadn't won at Cal since 2002.

Offensive standout II: Hard to ignore seven touchdowns. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota had five touchdown passes and two rushing TDs in a 57-16 win at Colorado. He completed 16 of 27 throws for 355 yards with no interceptions. He also rushed seven times for 43 yards.

Defensive standout: UCLA S Anthony Jefferson snagged two of the Bruins' six interceptions in their 34-27 win over Utah. He also tied for second on the Bruins with seven total tackles.

Defensive standout II: Stanford OLB Trent Murphy had two sacks and his fourth-quarter deflection of a Price pass led to an interception by A.J. Tarpley inside the Cardinal's 10-yard line. Murphy, who is making a strong case for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, had six total tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss.

Special-teams standout: No doubt about this one. Montgomery accounted for nearly 300 total yards for Stanford in the win over the Huskies, including 204 total yards on kick returns. In addition to his 99-yard touchdown, he also had a 68-yard return that set up an easy Stanford TD. Oh, by the way, he also caught a 39-yard TD pass. Simple as this: Montgomery is the reason Stanford won.

Smiley face: It's pretty cool that the Pac-12 produced a pair of outstanding games UCLA-Utah on Thursday and UW-Stanford winding up another great weekend of football. It's also meaningful, as Kevin noted, that the top teams held serve. Oregon and Stanford have fully justified top-five rankings, while UCLA continues to shine. Further, there was nothing inglorious about how Washington went down.

Frowny face: Arizona State blew its opportunity for a special start to the season with a 37-34 loss to Notre Dame. The Sun Devils had three turnovers, couldn't run the ball and made a previously struggling Notre Dame offense look potent. So, for a second time this season, Arizona State fell out of the national rankings. Further, ASU still seems to be a completely different team on the road than inside the friendly confines of Sun Devil Stadium, which bodes ill for the potentially critical visit to UCLA on Nov. 23. While many Sun Devils fans would have taken a 3-2 start in the preseason, the schedule turned out to not be as tough as it looked in August. So the present record could be termed a disappointment.

Thought of the week: Last season, we had two major Pac-12 upsets before October arrived: Stanford over No. 2 USC on Sept. 15 and Washington over No. 8 Stanford on Sept. 27. So far this season, we've had no major upsets. But you'd have to guess at least one will shock us at some point. The teams most on upset alert are the highly ranked unbeatens: Oregon, Stanford and UCLA. The Ducks have a tough trip to rival Washington on Saturday. That's a team the Ducks have beaten nine consecutive times by at least 17 points, but this matchup feels far more likely to be competitive. Stanford is at Utah. That also feels like a potentially tricky game, particularly after the emotions of the win over the Huskies on Saturday. And the Bruins shouldn't be overconfident against California, a team that is dangerous because it can throw the ball well.

Questions for the week: Who is USC going to be under interim coach Ed Orgeron? Are the Trojans going to unite around a new, fiery leader and play inspired football? If they do, they could cause some problems for teams with high aspirations. Stanford and UCLA each still play the Trojans. Or do they continue to be a distracted, seemingly indifferent group of individuals? We should get a good idea on Thursday when Arizona visits the Coliseum.

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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There's a trick to calling trick plays.

It's not just the design of the foolery or how it's executed. It's when you call them. And of course, they're brilliant when they work and head-scratchers when they blow up.

Take a pair of fake punts on Saturday as an example. In Iowa City, Michigan State called for one from its own 37-yard line in the fourth quarter while leading Iowa 20-14. Mark Dantonio named the play "Hey Diddle Diddle" because punter Mike Sadler would run up the middle. Sadler actually veered right, but he gained 25 yards and set up a key field goal.

“We just sort of felt, if the moment was right, we’d do it,” Dantonio told reporters after the game. “I just wanted to make sure our players know, they’re at risk on the football field."

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastUrban Meyer's call for a fake punt didn't work this time.
Urban Meyer has always been a risk-taker, and most of his decisions in the past year and a half have paid off for Ohio State. But one backfired at Northwestern on Saturday and could have proved costly.

Meyer put the fake punt on from his own 32 in the second quarter, but punter Cameron Johnston came up well short of the sticks. Northwestern used the field position to kick a field goal and go up 20-13. The Buckeyes coach later said calling for the fake at that time was an error, but that won't change his mindset.

“That's who we are," he said. "We're going to run a fake punt again. I tell our players all the time: We're an aggressive team, we do what we've got to do to win games."

Sometimes you live by the trick play, sometimes you die by it. Dantonio has a history of using comically named gadget plays, but his halfback pass idea at Notre Dame earlier this year proved disastrous as it was picked off, costing the Spartans momentum in a close game. Nebraska botched a fake punt against UCLA when it tried to have a 300-pound defensive lineman rumble for a first down. Wisconsin executed a brilliant fake punt at Arizona State in Week 3 when linebacker Chris Borland passed for a first down.

When pulled off, trick plays can give a team a huge boost. When they fail, they can leave a coach with egg on his face. The trick is knowing when and where to call them.

Take that and rewind it back ...

Team of the week: With nods to Michigan State (which pulled out a big road win at Iowa) and Indiana (which snapped a 16-game losing streak versus Penn State) this honor belongs to Ohio State for a second consecutive week. Going to Northwestern was the Buckeyes' biggest challenge of the season, and they found themselves trailing for the first time since the second quarter of last year's season finale versus Michigan. They used their powerful offensive line to battle back and got a few key stops on defense in the fourth quarter for their 18th consecutive victory. Ohio State is halfway to an undefeated regular season with a highly advantageous schedule remaining.

Worst hangover: No matter how its season was going, Penn State could always count on one thing: beating Indiana. The Nittany Lions had never lost to the Hoosiers in 16 tries. So when the Hoosiers not only ended the streak but put an exclamation point on it by taking a 42-17 fourth-quarter lead and winning by 20, that raised a giant red flag over Penn State's season. This week's sold-out, white-out home game against Michigan looked like a great way for Lions fans to celebrate the reduction of their NCAA sanctions. Now, it could be a deflating reminder of the cost of those sanctions.

Big Man on Campus (offense): Heading into the Northwestern game, Meyer said of Carlos Hyde, "We're going to ride that horse." And boy did the Buckeyes ever climb aboard their workhorse tailback. Hyde ran for 168 yards and three touchdowns, the last one coming when he had the presence of mind to reach the ball across the plane on third down while falling backwards to save Ohio State's winning streak. Hyde ran like a guy who knew football was almost taken away from him after his poor decision this summer, and he became emotional when talking about it afterward.

Big Man on Campus (defense): In our Friday Q&A, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard expressed his frustration with not having an interception through the first five weeks while saying he was very close. Dennard then went out and picked off two passes at Iowa, one in the first quarter and one in the fourth. The Hawkeyes were forced to try to beat Dennard through the air because they couldn't run the ball (see below).

Big Man on Campus (special teams): Michigan State freshman kicker Michael Geiger missed his first field goal attempt against Iowa from 36 yards. That had to bring back bad memories for Spartans fans, because key missed field goals were an overlooked factor in last year's 6-6 regular season. But Geiger then made his next four tries, from 27, 35, 49 and 40 yards. Given the state of Michigan State's offense, it probably needs a reliable kicker more than most teams. That's why Geiger was an important recruit, and why Spartans fans should be happy that the Geiger counter is dialed in right now.

Best play: Kenny Bell's one-handed catch on his way to a 37-yard touchdown put Illinois away for good and gave Bell a secure spot on Nebraska's season highlight film. Teammate Ameer Abdullah's 43-yard touchdown run off an option pitch might have been the day's second-best play.

A spot of bother: Did Kain Colter and Northwestern get victimized by a bad spot on the quarterback's fourth-and-1 rushing attempt late in the game? Possibly. But when you mess up the center exchange and then fall into a pile of bodies, it's hard to get the benefit of the doubt, and replays were not conclusive.

The bigger question might be whether the Wildcats got a little too conservative on that drive as they trailed 34-30. Just about all night, they had torn through Ohio State's pass defense, including a 67-yard completion to Rashad Lawrence on the previous possession that set up a touchdown. Pat Fitzgerald likely wanted to burn some clock and put his team in position to win the game with a touchdown and not have his defense go back on the field. Still, after opening the drive with a 9-yard completion, the Wildcats ran the ball on their next five plays. The final four runs gained only 8 yards, and Colter came up an inch short of the first down at the Buckeyes' 34.

Fun with numbers (via ESPN Stats & Info)

  • Michigan State now leads the country in rushing defense, allowing just 50.4 yards per game. The Spartans held Iowa, which came to Saturday's game averaging 244 yards per game on the ground, to just 23 rushing yards. Since the start of 2011, Michigan State has held 20 opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing, including all five games in 2013.
  • One reason for Ohio State's success has been its field position advantage, thanks to a strong punting game. The Buckeyes' opponents have started their possessions after a punt, on average, at the 18-yard line. That's second-best in the nation behind Houston.
  • Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Michigan's Blake Countess are tied for the national lead with four interceptions each. Countess' 149 interception return yards are most in the FBS, and Jean-Baptiste's 134 ranks third.
  • Indiana's strong passing attack isn't just a dink-and-dunk routine. The Hoosiers are averaging 14.66 yards per pass completion, best in the Big Ten and No. 14 in the FBS. Of those completions, 61.9 percent of them have gone for at least 10 yards.
  • Bill O'Brien has hardly kept the reins on true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. He is attempting 36.4 passes a game, most in the Big Ten and No. 17 nationally. Hackenberg attempted 55 passes Saturday against Indiana.
  • Who has played the toughest schedule so far? According to one stat, it's Indiana. The Hoosiers' FBS opponents' winning percentage is 85.4 percent, second highest in the nation behind Washington. The weakest schedule, using that measurement, is Michigan State, whose FBS opponents' winning percentage is just 41.3 percent.
  • Michigan has scored either a touchdown or a field goal on 81.3 percent of its drives inside the opponent's 40-yard line, tops in the league and No. 7 nationally. The Wolverines are also No. 3 in the FBS in red zone touchdown efficiency, reaching the end zone 81.8 percent of the time they break the opponent's 20-yard line.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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Taking stock of Week 6 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Baylor. This is starting to get ridiculous. Despite the uptick in opponent, the Bears scored more than 70 points for the third consecutive week, becoming the first FBS team to do so since 1930. The offense has overshadowed how well the defense has also been playing. Baylor, which gave up 70 in Morgantown last year, limited West Virginia to just two offensive touchdowns through three quarters. By that point, the Bears led 66-21. Can anyone stop these guys?

Disappointment of the week: West Virginia. Nobody really expected the Mountaineers would go to Waco and win as four-touchdown underdogs. But this was a litmus test for a defense that had been pretty solid through the first month of the season. Well, the West Virginia defense failed the test miserably, giving up a Big 12-record 864 yards of offense. Baylor had four turnovers and committed 100 yards' worth of penalties. And the Bears still scored 73 points.

[+] EnlargeLache Seastrunk
AP Photo/Jose YauBaylor's Lache Seastrunk contributed 172 of Baylor's whopping 468 rushing yards against West Virginia.
Big (offensive) men on campus: Baylor's offensive line. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said afterward he’d never seen a line establish the line of scrimmage the way the Bears did. Up front, Spencer Drango, Cyril Richardson, Stefan Huber, Desmine Hilliard and Kelvin Palmer paved the way for Baylor to rack up 468 yards on the ground against a defensive front that held Oklahoma State running back Jeremy Smith to just 1 yard on 15 carries a week ago. The Bears have been unstoppable so far, in large part because their offensive line has been paving lanes as well as any line in college football.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Shaun Lewis and Jason Verrett. The Oklahoma State linebacker and TCU cornerback showed over the weekend why they’re all-conference-caliber players. Lewis led the Cowboys with eight tackles, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass late in the fourth quarter. Lewis also chased down Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams with a shoestring tackle in the open field on the Wildcats’ final drive that kept the clock ticking. Verrett, meanwhile, was fabulous in a losing effort at Oklahoma. Verrett had six tackles and two pass breakups, and he basically blanketed any receiver that lined up on his side of the field. TCU's defense dominated the Sooners in the third quarter, which allowed the Horned Frogs to climb back into the game despite a 13-0 halftime deficit.

Special-teams players of the week: Travis Britz and Kip Daily. The Kansas State duo came up with a huge play at Oklahoma State with 2:45 to go in the first half. Britz jumped up and blocked Ben Grogan’s 43-yard field goal attempt, and Daily grabbed the deflection and raced 65 yards for the touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 14-10 lead (Oklahoma State won the game 33-29). Daily is having quite the season. Three weeks ago, he was the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Week after picking off two passes against UMass. Placekickers Michael Hunnicutt and Ryan Bustin get honorable-mention honors here. Hunnicutt set an Oklahoma record with his 49th career field goal. After missing a 32-yard field goal at Kansas, Bustin bounced back to connect on four field goals and six extra points as Texas Tech routed the Jayhawks 54-16.

Play of the week: After getting completely shut down in the second half, the Sooners' offense finally got the play to put TCU away. With OU holding on to a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter, running back Brennan Clay got a carry to the left and then cut it back right 76 yards for a touchdown to basically put the game away with 4:37 to play. "We set it up the whole day," Clay said. "The [linebackers] were going over the top and the O-line did a great job just pressing the play, and I was fortunate enough to make the cut backdoor and the safety was a little flat-footed. I made a stutter step and just took it to the crib."

Stat of the week: After six weeks, Baylor QB Bryce Petty leads the nation in opponent-adjusted Total QBR, which takes into account the strength of the opposing defenses faced. Petty has a score of 97.7 (0-100 scale, 50 is average). Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is second (96.8) followed by Georgia’s Aaron Murray (95.6).

Quote of the week: “70 points, I guess, isn’t enough.” – Petty, on those who still doubt the Bears' offense

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
11:00
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When you’re hot, you’re hot. And when you’re not, you’re not.

We look back at Week 6 in the SEC.

GLOWING EMBERS

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Getty ImagesThe Tigers will have QB James Franklin back in the starting lineup as they chase down an SEC East crown starting Saturday at Ole Miss.
SEC quarterbacks: We had a pretty good idea that the big three in the SEC -- Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Georgia’s Aaron Murray -- could stack up with any quarterback triumvirate in the country. But the quarterback play throughout the SEC has been outstanding this season, and the weekend’s games were another example of how deep, versatile and talented this crop of quarterbacks really is. Murray was as clutch as clutch could be in engineering the drive to tie the score at Tennessee (with all of his top playmakers on the bench) and forcing overtime. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger just gets better every game. He was 25-of-29 against Mississippi State for 340 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Don’t forget about Missouri’s James Franklin, either. He has accounted for 15 touchdowns in five games for the unbeaten Tigers and tossed four touchdown passes without an interception at Vanderbilt on Saturday. Is there a tougher and more team-oriented quarterback anywhere than South Carolina’s Connor Shaw? He returned from a sprained throwing shoulder a week earlier and rolled up 312 yards in total offense against Kentucky. Florida’s Tyler Murphy looks as though he has been there the whole way for the Gators. He was 16-of-22 for 240 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against Arkansas. Auburn’s Nick Marshall was masterful in executing the zone-read against Ole Miss and rushed for a team-high 140 yards and two touchdowns. Don’t look now, but the SEC suddenly has become a quarterback league.

HOT

Missouri: The first season in the SEC might not have been what Missouri bargained for a year ago with all the injuries and a disappointing 5-7 finish, but the Tigers are cruising right along this season after thumping Vanderbilt 51-28 on the road to remain unbeaten. Missouri wasn’t on much of anybody’s radar to start the season, and that has seemed to fuel the Tigers. They get a chance to make their biggest statement yet this Saturday at No. 7 Georgia.

NOT

Georgia’s health: As feared, the Dawgs lost running back Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley for the season to ACL tears suffered in the Tennessee game. Receiver Michael Bennett also injured his knee and will be out for a while. Running back Todd Gurley was nursing an injured ankle, and receiver Malcolm Mitchell was lost for the season in the opener with a knee injury after celebrating a long run by Gurley.

HOT

Auburn’s big-play defense: It looks as though the Tigers are beginning to settle in on defense, and you knew they would with Ellis Johnson and that veteran staff. They played much better in the second half two weeks ago at LSU and made one big play after another in the win over Ole Miss -- from Robenson Therezie’s 78-yard interception return for a touchdown, to six sacks (two by freshman end Carl Lawson), to a big stop on fourth down by safety Ryan Smith.

NOT

Mississippi State in the second half: The Bulldogs haven’t had trouble scoring points here lately, but they’ve been a no-show in the second half in all three of their losses. LSU outscored them 31-3 last week after halftime. Counting the losses to Auburn and Oklahoma State, Mississippi State has been outscored 55-10 in the second half in those three games. And in the fourth quarter, it has been even worse. They’ve been outscored 42-0 in their three losses.

HOT

Butch Jones’ message: Lost in Tennessee’s gut-wrenching 34-31 overtime loss to Georgia was a message from first-year coach Butch Jones to Vols fans that was unmistakable: He plays to win, and that’s the way it’s going to be on his watch. Tennessee went for it on fourth down three times in the fourth quarter, twice in its own territory, and converted all three. It wasn’t just that the Vols went for it on fourth down, but the play calls were absolute beauties. Tennessee is still a ways off from being an SEC contender, but Jones continues to grind away … and stack those bricks.

NOT

Vanderbilt’s defense: The Commodores offense also was slow to get out of the gate in the 51-28 loss to Missouri, but it has been a struggle on defense in all three SEC losses. Vanderbilt has given up at least 35 points in all three games and was barely even a speed bump for the Tigers, who didn’t trot out their punter until there were 10 minutes to play in the game.

HOT

Florida’s defense: Everybody is talking about all the big offensive numbers in the SEC this season, but Florida just might have the best defense in the country. The Gators uncharacteristically gave up a long drive to Arkansas to start Saturday’s game, but held the Hogs to 7 rushing yards in the second half. Florida ranks second nationally in total defense and fourth in scoring defense. The Gators have now gone 13 consecutive SEC games where they’ve held opponents to 21 or fewer points. Nobody else in the league has gone longer than one game.

NOT

South Carolina’s killer instinct: The Gamecocks can’t put anybody away, and that’s bound to catch up with them, especially with three straight road games in the next three weeks starting with Arkansas on Saturday in Fayetteville. They led Kentucky 27-7 entering the fourth quarter, but hung on to win by a touchdown. It was a similar story with UCF two weeks ago after giving up two late touchdowns, and Vanderbilt stormed back from a 28-0 deficit in Columbia the third week of the season.

FREEZER BURN

Avoiding off-the-field drama: It has not been the best run for the SEC in terms of staying out of the headlines off the field. Last week, Alabama placed an assistant strength coach on administrative leave after he loaned safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix some money this summer. The Tide have filed a waiver to have Clinton-Dix’s eligibility reinstated. There was also an uproar at Ole Miss when allegations surfaced that members of the football team were making homophobic slurs at a play on campus based on the murder of a gay University of Wyoming student. Ole Miss officials investigated and said they found no evidence that players used any anti-gay slurs. You had the whole Johnny Manziel circus during the offseason and reports that he signed autographs for money. Alabama kicked four players off the team in February after they were arrested for robbing a student on campus. A Yahoo! Sports report in September alleged several former SEC players, including Alabama’s D.J. Fluker, Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox and Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, received extra benefits from former Alabama player Luther Davis, who was acting as a runner. Current Tennessee defensive tackle Maurice Couch was suspended after also being named in the report. The Vanderbilt rape investigation also remains open, and five players have been dismissed from the team.

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