Welcome to The Crock Pot, your one-stop in-season shop for all the SEC football news, notes, quotes and mishaps you’ve been stewing over all weekend. SEC Country has been stewing, too, and what we’re cooking up for you every Monday morning is a tasty medley of the conference’s highlights, lowlights and every #ItJustMeansMore commercial in between.
Great coaches don’t grow on trees. Even ones with the coveted “Nick Saban” label.
This is something Florida fans have known since the Will Muschamp hiring, but some Georgia fans are just realizing.
The Bulldogs fell to Vanderbilt, 17-16, in a dreadful homecoming defeat. The special teams play was bad all around, excluding the kicker (although UGA entered the weekend 4 of 9 on field goals). The offensive line’s run blocking went from paving the way for 326 yards rushing against South Carolina to just 75 yards on Saturday.
The play-calling (what else?) also drew scrutiny after a game-deciding 4th-and-1 saw Georgia pitch it to undersized wideout Isaiah McKenzie, with star tailback Nick Chubb lead-blocking for him. The play was sniffed out, as Vandy linebacker Zach Cunningham tracked down McKenzie and easily wrestled him to the ground for no gain.
Coach Kirby Smart, to his credit, accepted blame for the “unacceptable” loss. Via DawgNation:
“That all starts with me,” Smart said. “That responsibility starts with me. And I told the players that. We’ve got to improve as a team in order to beat teams like that. We’ve got to get better.”
Smart is still squarely in the safe zone stage of his young tenure as Georgia’s head coach. Being a first-timer, who was also a wildly successful coordinator at Alabama and a star Georgia letterman in his day, buys him tons of time and points with everyone — boosters, administrators, fans. He’s earned that.
But being a good coordinator or a good football player have never, ever been guarantees that Assistant X will make a great head coach. College football is littered with good coordinators who flamed out trying to lead programs of their own.
Georgia fans have likened this season to Saban’s first at Alabama, when he finished 7-6 and lost to Louisiana-Monroe, but that’s comparing apples to oranges. At the time, Alabama had been dealing with NCAA sanctions that followed two abrupt coaching changes before Saban, who had already won a national championship at LSU, took over.
The 2006 Crimson Tide went 6-7. The 2015 Georgia Bulldogs finished with 10 wins.
“We’ve got to get better,” is Smart’s assertion, but this team was already pretty good. If anything, it has regressed. The Bulldogs have committed 47 penalties, second most in the SEC. They’ve allowed 15 plays of 30-plus yards on defense (tied for third worst in the SEC) and they’re among the nation’s worst at covering kickoffs.
This, simply put, looks like a team with a rookie head coach.
Following Mark Richt, who won 9 or 10 games every season, was never going to be easy. Learning how to be an SEC head coach on the job is hard enough already. And there’s reason to believe Smart will learn from this, develop a better feel for the job and improve while his promising young team also gains more experience.
But one can’t help but wonder: What if Smart isn’t the guy? What if he’s another Will Muschamp?
Time will tell. Right now, though, a home loss to Vanderbilt certainly allows room for that doubt to creep in.
Just how dominant is Alabama’s 7-0 start?
Margin of victory is certainly not the most perfect measurement of a team’s skill/talent, but it’s an easily accessible one.
Under Saban, the Crimson Tide have steamrolled through too many inferior foes to count, and this year’s group has carried on that proud Saban tradition. On Saturday, they stomped Tennessee, 49-10, in Neyland Stadium. The Vols were outgained in total yards (594-163), first downs (28-11) and total plays run (76-63) by huge margins.
Through seven games, Alabama has now outscored opponents 318-105, putting the team on pace for a +365 margin of victory over a 12-game regular season. For comparison, the last time ‘Bama was that good in the margin of victory category was 2012, when the Tide outscored opponents by 389 points over the course of 14 games.
Here’s how the different Alabama teams of recent years stack up here:
- 2015: +297
- 2014: +259
- 2013: +315
- 2012: +389
- 2011: +347
- 2010: +288
The real MVP awards
Week 7 produced a bunch of phenomenal individual efforts in the SEC, from Jalen Hurts all the way down to Zach Cunningham. While quarterbacks and running backs will always get disproportionate amounts of love in the media, The Crock Pot isn’t having any of it.
Now that we’re about halfway through the regular season, here are The Real MVP awards for every SEC school:
Alabama: Jonathan Allen. He has 5 sacks and 6 QB hurries as a 3-4 defensive end, on a team that already has Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson. The guy makes big plays and is consistently strong when the spotlight isn’t on him.
Texas A&M: Trayveon Williams. OK, in this case, running back props are deserved. The Aggies finally have a rushing attack again, and while the offensive line has improved, Williams’ explosiveness can’t be ignored. The true freshman has forced 25 missed tackles on 90 carries, and is averaging 8.6 yards per rush. Myles Garrett has been incredible, but so has Williams.
Tennessee: Derek Barnett. While Josh Dobbs has orchestrated the heroics, the comebacks don’t happen without Barnett. The junior has 6 sacks, 11.5 tackles for losses, 5 QB hurries and 2 forced fumbles in seven games. The NFL draft’s first round has his name on it.
Florida: Quincy Wilson. Jalen Tabor is the better quote and probably the better NFL talent when all is said and done, but Wilson’s emergence has been huge with the departure of 2015 star Vernon Hargreaves III. Stats don’t do Wilson, Tabor and the rest of the Gators’ secondary justice. Defensive backs coach Torrian Gray deserves a raise.
LSU: Jamal Adams. The Tigers claim the nation’s No. 4 scoring defense (14.0 PPG allowed), and the junior safety plays a leading role in that success. He might not have an interception to his name, but he’s been superb at limiting big plays or preventing them from happening entirely. LSU has only allowed 7 plays of 30-plus yards this year; that’s tied for second best in the country.
Auburn: Carlton Davis. Carl Lawson gets a lot of (deserved) credit, but the sophomore Davis entered the season with way lower expectations. What he’s done — break up 7 passes while spending extensive time on the opponent’s top receiver — is nothing short of remarkable. No team has passed for 300 yards against Auburn this season, and Davis is part of the reason.
Arkansas: Austin Allen. A quarterback who deserves it, Allen sure doesn’t look like a first-year starter. He has played under pressure way too often this season, but the junior has made the best of it. Through seven games, he has completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,861 yards, 18 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. In a year full of offensive transition, Allen has been a stabilizing force.
Ole Miss: Evan Engram. He’s been the most productive and dynamic tight end in the country this season. The senior is a matchup nightmare, brutal to defend in the middle of the field and he’s been an indispensable part of Ole Miss’ pass-happy offense.
Georgia: Isaiah McKenzie/Dominick Sanders. Mark it down as a tie. McKenzie has been one of the lone bright spots for an offense that’s been inconsistent all season, and Sanders has masked some of the Bulldogs’ secondary woes with his instinctive play-making abilities.
Vanderbilt: Ralph Webb/Zach Cunningham. It’s too hard to choose between these two, because they’ve been far and away the best players on this team.
Kentucky: Jon Toth. The Wildcats’ ground attack has really picked things up lately, and you can dish out plenty of credit to Toth for anchoring the middle of that UK offensive line. In wins against New Mexico State, South Carolina and Vanderbilt, Kentucky has rushed for 855 yards combined.
South Carolina: Jamarcus King. The Gamecocks have been atrocious at stopping the run, but they have held opponents to 173 passing yards per game. Although this is partly because teams like to run the ball on them so much, King has been a positive regardless. The junior college enrollee has an interception and 3 tackles for losses to go along with solid all-around play, both against the pass and coming up to play the run.
Missouri: J’Mon Moore. He leads the SEC in receiving touchdowns (6) and adds to that 28 catches for 465 yards. Although he’s been very quiet the past two weeks (2 catches, 31 yards) at least some of that falls on Drew Lock, who has been incredibly up and down in 2016.
Mississippi State: Richie Brown. There haven’t been many standouts in Starkville this season, but the senior linebacker has played a role in the Bulldogs keeping teams hemmed in on the ground. Brown has made 51 tackles, including 2.5 for losses, and forced a fumble through six games.
Big 12 schadenfreude
This isn’t directly SEC-related, but it will interest you. According to Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel, Big 12 expansion is crumbling. The catalyst here is ESPN and FOX — the conference’s TV partners — being willing to pay for the Big 12 to not expand.
Yeah, you heard that right. The two networks are willing to pony up for the Big 12 product as it exists now. There would be no Houston, BYU or anyone else to potentially boost the conference’s profile. An official announcement is expected Monday evening.
While that certainly doesn’t guarantee nothing happens, it sounds pretty likely that all this big expansion talk will go out with a whimper. Long term, that can only help the SEC land an Oklahoma or an Oklahoma State if those schools wanted to jump ship from the slowly sinking conference.
Texas A&M and Missouri have to be cackling behind the curtain right now.
Here’s how I voted in this week’s edition of the official SEC Country Power Poll:
- Alabama — The Crimson Tide beat Tennessee worse than they beat Kentucky at home. Yikes!
- Texas A&M — Realistically, the Aggies should be hoping for a close loss this weekend. Trevor Knight is quick, but I’m not so sure he has Johnny Manziel heroics in store for us.
- Tennessee — Horrible as that game was, the Vols will still wind up 10-2, and both of those losses are pretty respectable.
- Ole Miss — Why did the Rebels drop to No. 7? Losing to Arkansas on the road, by 4 points, isn’t horrible at all.
- Auburn — I think the Tigers will beat Arkansas on Saturday. They’re trending up in a big way and have more room to grow on offense if John Franklin III can stay involved.
- Arkansas — Good win for the Hogs. Until we start seeing that type of defensive performance week to week, though, I’m not comfortable bumping them higher.
- LSU — The Bayou Bengals are the SEC’s most dangerous team in my eyes. They could wind up much higher on this list by November.
- Florida — Pushing Missouri around at home is nice, but the quality of the Gators’ five wins isn’t eye-popping at all.
- Georgia — Dropping your homecoming game to Vanderbilt is bad, bad, bad.
- Kentucky — A bowl invitation is absolutely still on the table, and its defense has looked better of late.
- Vanderbilt — OK, props for beating the Bulldogs. Webb and Cunningham are great players on a bad team.
- Mississippi State — Nick Fitzgerald will be a good quarterback down the line, but this season is basically lost for the Bulldogs.
- South Carolina — Seeing what Georgia did against them two weeks ago, and then how Vandy stopped UGA last Saturday, is a bad look for the Gamecocks.
- Missouri — Yuck. Marvin Zanders might need to see more snaps.
Headlines from around the league
- Alabama’s Jalen Hurts deserves Heisman consideration after undressing Tennessee (Kyle Tucker, SEC Country)
- What Kirby Smart said after Georgia’s stunning homecoming loss to Vanderbilt (Nick Cole, SEC Country)
- ‘The definition of an Auburn Man’: Tigers remember work ethic, warm attitude of Quentin Groves (Lauren Shute, SEC Country)
- 5 heroes from Arkansas’ monumental win over Ole Miss (Jason Kersey, SEC Country)
- Gators react to taking control of SEC East race (Zach Abolverdi, SEC Country)
- As good as it may be, LSU feels its rushing attack still needs to get better (Nick Suss, SEC Country)
- Week 7 SEC bowl projections (Alec Shirkey, SEC Country)
- Should Georgia Fans Question Kirby Smart Hire Now After Loss to Vanderbilt? (Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report)
- College football mailbag: LSU, Florida, SEC all look bad in rescheduling debacle (Jon Solomon, CBS)
- Dear Leonard Fournette: Get healthy and get back on the field for LSU (Edward Aschoff, ESPN)
Reviewing the predictions
Here’s how I fared this weekend:
- Mississippi State at BYU: A Fitzgerald mistake is the difference — he threw two picks in a 7-point game, but BYU didn’t capitalize on them. False, technically.
- Vanderbilt at Georgia: All aboard the Chubb train, choo choo — Jim Chaney was not aboard this train when Chubb was lead-blocking for Isaiah McKenzie on 4th-and-1. False.
- No. 1 Alabama at No. 9 Tennessee: Alvin Kamara will keep the Vols hanging around — not much went right on Rocky Top this weekend, especially if Tennessee’s plan was really to get Kamara the ball “as much as possible.” False.
- Missouri at No. 18 Florida: Marvin Zanders sees real playing time — no, but he should have played more. False.
- No. 12 Ole Miss at No. 22 Arkansas: Upset alert — got this one. True.
- Southern Miss at LSU: Ed Orgeron continues staking his claim for the full-time job — tied at halftime, LSU broke away and won big. True.
What you need to know (besides football)
Things I don’t understand: The Internet has become the birthplace for many puzzling things, but none confuse me more than the meteoric rise of Ken Bone, a pudgy, quarter-zip-wearing St. Louis man who was featured on the most-recent presidential debate. Why is he a thing? What’s interesting about him, other than he looks really goofy? At least the Harambe jokes stem from an event that was dramatic/surprising/unique. The “what are those” guy produced a memorable one-liner. But Ken Bone? He’s the most boring dude on the planet. If he’s a meme, I’m a meme. So are you. We all are. There are no rules to this. Nothing makes sense. Ugh. Rant over.
Phrase it as a question: Speaking of boring old white guys, living dinosaur Alex Trebek actually said something memorable on a recent episode of Jeopardy. Some poor contestant was trying to explain her interest in “nerdcore” hip-hop music, a genre I can only define as “Childish Gambino/Donald Glover minus anything cool or redeeming.” Trebek’s response to this lady’s explanation of nerdcore rappers? “Lowers, in other words.” Brilliant. Trebek made a lot of these “losers” mad, which is also pretty funny.
— FATTLDI (@TerrellDidThis) October 12, 2016
Horrible: That’s the only subhead I could come up with for this story. Olympic sprinter Tyson Gay’s 15-year-old daughter, Trinity, was killed this weekend as the result of a shooting outside a Lexington, Ky., restaurant. An arrest in connection with the shooting has reportedly been made. Gay, who attended the University of Arkansas, had this to say of the tragedy: “She didn’t make it. I’m so confused,” Gay told WLEX Sports Director Alan Cutler. “She was just here last week for fall break. It’s so crazy. I have no idea what happened.” Terrible thing to read about. Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, it’s a fact that keeping weapons out of criminal hands remains a big problem in this country.
People might think sportswriting doesn’t lend itself to an active lifestyle, but that’s not always true. Check out my boy, SEC Country Alabama beat writer Marq Burnett, going the extra mile to get fresh sound bites from all-time great Nick Saban. Way to hustle, champ. That’s how we win.
— Michael Casagrande (@ByCasagrande) October 15, 2016