What we learned in the SEC: Week 13
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We're down to the final week of the regular season and then it's on to Alabama vs. Florida in the SEC Championship Game. These last few weeks have been anti-climatic with the title game being set so early, especially when you consider what's at stake when the Gators and Crimson Tide clash on Dec. 6 in Atlanta. Still, there were more than a few eye-opening developments around the league in Week 13. Here's a look at what we learned:
1. Ole Miss is for real: Here's a teaser for Ole Miss fans: You're going to like the newest edition of the SEC power rankings when they come out on Monday. The Rebels (7-4, 4-3 SEC) left little doubt that they should be included among the SEC's elite teams this season with their 31-13 pummeling of No. 18-ranked LSU in Tiger Stadium. Houston Nutt showed once again why he's such a solid big-game coach. The Rebels were aggressive on defense, ran a fake punt, ran reverses and never quit attacking. Their defensive line has few peers in the league right now. Peria Jerry and Co. held the Tigers to one of their worst rushing days this decade -- 37 yards on 29 carries. If the Rebels can take care of business at home Friday against Mississippi State, they're headed to the Cotton Bowl with the kind of momentum Ole Miss hasn't seen in football since Eli Manning was flinging passes.
2. Something's amiss at LSU: This team is far too talented to be getting trampled at home. The defending national champion Tigers (7-4, 3-4 SEC) have lost three games at home this season after losing three games total at Tiger Stadium from 2003-07. The 31-13 loss Saturday to Ole Miss was another reminder of everything that's gone wrong. Sure, the quarterback issues have been tough to deal with, but most disappointing in the Tigers' collapse has been a defense (and a defense with several future pros) that has repeatedly taken it on the chin. The Tigers gave up 409 total yards to the Rebels. That's three SEC games that LSU has been shredded for 400 or more yards this season. Florida had 475 and Georgia 443. At this point, you can't help but wonder if LSU coach Les Miles will re-consider his two-defensive coordinator system of Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto at the end of the season.
3. Simply the best: Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis doesn't make it a habit to compare players. But when he says sophomore safety Eric Berry is, in his opinion, the best defensive player in the country, you can bet that Chavis means it. Outgoing Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer goes one step further when he says Berry is already one of the greatest players to play at Tennessee and could be one of the best to ever play in the SEC. Berry intercepted his seventh pass of the season Saturday in Tennessee's 20-10 victory over Vanderbilt and returned it for a 45-yard touchdown. Berry now has 12 career interceptions in 25 career games and has returned three of those picks for touchdowns. He has 487 return yards for his career, which is 14 yards shy of the all-time FBS record held by Florida State's Terrell Buckley from 1989-91.
4. Bulldogs still swinging: Talk about a tormented season. It's been that and more for Mississippi State, which was eliminated from bowl contention two weeks ago in a loss to Alabama. The questions about Sylvester Croom's job security have intensified, not to mention the calls for him to purge his staff. In short, it's been one big mess of a season for the Bulldogs, but they proved Saturday in a 31-28 win over Arkansas that they haven't shut it down. They easily could have after falling behind 14-0 midway through the first quarter to the Hogs, but they battled back behind their best and most complete offensive performance of the season. Mississippi State finished with a season-high 445 yards, and junior running back Anthony Dixon had a career-high 179 yards rushing and also caught five passes for 32 yards, two that went for touchdowns.
5. Quarterback horror show: Parental guidance was suggested for the quarterback play in the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game. Simply, it was rotten. Four different quarterbacks threw passes, and all four threw interceptions to go along with no touchdowns. Of course, that doesn't count the touchdowns they threw to the other team. Vanderbilt's Chris Nickson threw a second-quarter pass that was returned 45 yards for a touchdown, and Tennessee's B.J. Coleman threw a third-quarter pass that was returned 42 yards for a touchdown. The Vols managed to win despite finishing with just 21 passing yards. It's the worst they've been at quarterback in at least 30 years and maybe going all the way back to the single-wing days. The Commodores wound up with 188 passing yards, but 66 of those came in the final 1:21 when the game was already over and the Vols were giving Mackenzi Adams the underneath throws. You'd have to watch a lot of football to find a game with poorer play at the quarterback position.