Even though teams are well past the halfway point of the 2016 season, new stars are emerging in the SEC.
Auburn’s running back rotation has been shaken up thanks to a former fullback’s emergence, while Mississippi State continues to see improvement from its offensive leader. Meanwhile, SEC East teams continue to have issues on both sides of the ball, even among the better squads.
Here are the biggest studs and duds from Week 9 of SEC play.
Stud: Auburn RB Kamryn Pettway
Last season, Pettway was a second-string fullback who didn’t receive a single carry as a redshirt freshman. But after another dominant performance against Ole Miss, Pettway just might have stolen the starting tailback job from Kerryon Johnson.
Pettway rushed for 236 yards on 7.9 yards per carry, including a 41-yard breakaway in the first quarter to give the Tigers their first lead. Pettway has received carries in only six games, but he’s up to a league-leading 933 rushing yards. He’s been dominant in the last three games, piling up 597 yards and 6 touchdowns against a trio of SEC opponents.
Dud: Tennessee QB Josh Dobbs
When Tennessee’s luck ran out, it really ran out. Despite playing against lowly South Carolina on Saturday, Dobbs threw just 6.2 yards per attempt and added a pair of interceptions in an embarrassing loss to the Gamecocks that put the Vols’ entire season in jeopardy.
Since throwing a Hail Mary to Jauan Jennings against Georgia, Dobbs has been tremendously inconsistent. He threw for a career-high 398 yards against Texas A&M, but added 2 critical interceptions. He was completely shut down against Alabama, averaging a measly 3.4 yards per attempt on his passes. South Carolina might have been the last straw for the Vols’ season.
Stud: Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk
Kirk’s performance deserves commendation despite coming against lowly New Mexico State. He finished second on the team with 36 receiving yards, including a 3-yard touchdown reception from Trevor Knight, but his greatest damage came in the return game.
Kirk returned punts for touchdowns of 70 and 73 yards in the first and third quarters, respectively. It was the first time in Texas A&M history that any player had returned multiple punts for touchdowns in a game. The performance also gave Kirk sole possession of the Texas A&M record with 4 punt return scores in his career, and he still has another season to play in College Station.
Dud: Missouri defensive front
There was a time Missouri was known for incredible defensive line play and suffocating defense — it was last season. But eight games into the Barry Odom era, the Tigers’ defensive front is playing terribly. It all came to a head against Kentucky’s running backs.
Missouri allowed an obscene 377 rushing yards, letting two different players accumulate at least 180 yards each. Boom Williams broke through the defense for a 60-yard touchdown scamper, while Benny Snell added scores of 1 and 18 yards. It was always going to take time to get on track after longtime coach Gary Pinkel retired, but even in context, this is underwhelming.
Stud: Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald
He’s no Dak Prescott, but Fitzgerald had a Dak-like game against Samford on Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs let their FCS opponent stick around far too long, but the shootout allowed Fitzgerald to have the best game of his young career.
Fitzgerald threw for 417 yards and 5 touchdowns and added 119 rushing yards and 2 rushing scores. He was responsible for every offensive touchdown and over 80 percent of the team’s yardage. While Fitzgerald hasn’t done himself any favors with his accuracy (6 INTs in his last four games), Dan Mullen needs to find him some help on offense.
Dud: Georgia offensive line
This is a repeat appearance for the group, but Saturday’s Cocktail Party against Florida exposed just how horrible the group can be against tough competition. The line allowed the Gators to break through the line for 8 tackles for loss and 2 sacks despite running half as many plays as the Gators. QB Jacob Eason was hurried 16 times.
The biggest weaknesses continued to come in the run game, where the Bulldogs averaged just 1.1 yards per rush and mustered 21 yards total. With talents like Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the backfield, it’s absolutely staggering to see a team struggle to move the ball offensively. In fact, it’s unacceptable.