What a weekend in the SEC!
Alabama had its 19-game winning streak snapped by South Carolina. Auburn survived on the last play of the game. LSU won on the final offensive play of the game, and Georgia might not be dead just yet.
Here’s a look at what we learned in the SEC in Week 6:
1. What separation? Forget all the talk about Alabama separating itself from the rest of the league. Needless to say, the landscape looks a little different thanks to South Carolina’s 35-21 thumping of the defending national champions. Now, everybody’s chasing unbeaten Auburn and LSU, and one of those teams isn’t going to stay unbeaten for much longer. They square off in two weeks on the Plains. What looked like Alabama’s show and then everybody else as recently as a week ago could get even more jumbled this coming weekend. Arkansas travels to Auburn in what should be a dandy of a football game. Alabama’s loss probably doesn’t help the SEC in terms of winning a fifth straight national championship. Then again, if either Auburn or LSU keep winning, it’s not going to matter. One of those teams would get a shot, and a one-loss Alabama team that wins the SEC championship would also remain right in the picture. The reality is that there are still all sorts of possibilities. The SEC needed a little drama, not to mention a little balance. As we hit the midway point of the season, this conference has both.
2. Wild West: Anybody want to try to sort out the West? Auburn and LSU are on top, both teams unbeaten. But Alabama and Arkansas are right there a game behind. The Hogs’ only loss was a 24-20 heartbreaker to the Crimson Tide two weeks ago, a game Arkansas led by two touchdowns in the second half. And don’t completely write off Mississippi State. Dan Mullen’s club is the most-improved team in the West, and while the Bulldogs might not win the division, they’re poised to factor into the race with the way they’re playing right now. They went to 4-2 overall Saturday with a 47-24 win at Houston and rushed for 409 yards, their highest output on the ground in almost 20 years. So as we dive into the second half of the season, everybody in the West still has big dreams. Nobody on that side has more than two losses overall.
3. South Carolina is for real: Ellis Johnson, South Carolina’s assistant head coach for the defense, said it best Saturday following the Gamecocks’ 35-21 win over then-No. 1-ranked Alabama. “Finally, what we’re starting to learn around here is that when bad plays happen, you move on to the next play and don’t let it affect you,” Johnson said. “It’s about making critical stops and critical plays at critical times in the fourth quarter, and our kids did that.” In other words, the Gamecocks are showing signs of being a legitimate championship-caliber team. They could have folded after the safety to open the second half and after Alabama made it a touchdown game, but they didn’t. They kept attacking, and that’s what championship teams do. South Carolina’s nucleus of young talent rates right up there with anybody in this league. See Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery and Stephon Gilmore. When quarterback Stephen Garcia plays the way he did against Alabama and the offensive line blocks the way it did against the Crimson Tide, this is a team that has everything it takes to be in Atlanta come December. After all, the Gamecocks are one turnover-laden quarter at Auburn away from being unbeaten right now.
4. Florida is average: Even the defense was pretty unspectacular Saturday in the 33-29 loss to LSU, as the Tigers racked up close to 400 yards in total offense and drove 62 yards in 10 plays in the final minutes for the game-winning touchdown. Still, in defense of the Gators’ defense, those guys have had to carry far too much of the burden this season. That’s because this offense -- the one that was going to throw it all over the field with John Brantley stepping in at quarterback -- is the worst one the Gators have had since Urban Meyer arrived in 2005. They can’t run the ball against legitimate defenses. They sleepwalk through the first halves of games, and their passing game is about as pedestrian as it gets. They were held to 243 total yards against LSU. That’s after managing 281 last week against Alabama. The Crimson Tide got a lot of mileage out of beating the Gators so soundly. But upon further review, maybe the Tide aren’t as mighty as they looked, and maybe the Gators are just plain average.
5. Lee makes a comeback: There are plenty of people on the Bayou who would have bet a lot of money that Jarrett Lee would never play another meaningful snap at LSU. The mere thought of seeing him go back into a game gave some LSU fans the shakes. But there Lee was Saturday night in the Swamp, as cool as cool can be, leading the Tigers back down the field in the final minutes and throwing the game-winning touchdown to Terrence Toliver on a perfectly placed pass. Lee, sharing the snaps with Jordan Jefferson, finished 9-of-11 for 124 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s two games in a row now that he’s saved the Tigers by engineering clutch drives. It’s also clear that he and Toliver have something working. When the Tigers need a big play, Lee looks for Toliver, who caught six passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns against the Gators. Toliver was also the guy Lee went to on the fourth-and-14 play against Tennessee. There’s no telling where the Tigers would be right now without Lee. They certainly wouldn’t be unbeaten. He deserves all the credit in the world for hanging in there, too. A lot of people thought he might transfer after his 16-interception season two years ago when he was a redshirt freshman. But Lee was determined to see it through at LSU, and the Tigers are fortunate that he’s one of those who finishes what he starts.