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.
Of all the craziness produced by Alabama and Ole Miss during their titanic clash in Oxford, the image of a dazed ArDarius Stewart patrolling the Crimson Tide sideline with an ax on his shoulder was the most jarring and the most symbolic.
Here’s a guy who just took a shot and spent extended time in the medical tent now helmet-less, pads off. All his football armor stripped away. And he’s walking around like he’s Gimli from Lord of the Rings, ready to hack the next Hugh Freeze look-alike he sees in half; ready to go down swinging.
This strangely beautiful moment perfectly captured his team’s 48-43 win and, on a larger scale, the Alabama dynasty for a simple reason:
Try as everyone might, you cannot kill this monster. Cut off a head and Nick Saban’s Hydra grows two or three more.
The Crimson Tide lost key players in this game, and what did they do? Send out another former 5-star in his place. With Stewart out, it only resulted in more touches for Calvin Ridley and Damien Harris. With Reuben Foster cramping, Rashaan Evans came out in his stead. Jalen Hurts played through a sprained wrist, but if they needed, the Crimson Tide had Blake Barnett waiting on deck.
For two years, Ole Miss played mongoose to the Crimson Tide viper. The Rebels were an opponent of equal strength, their high-speed passing attack the perfect foil to Saban’s stop-the-run-first defense. Once again, the game Saturday showed us just how absurdly difficult it is to stop Chad Kelly & Co. when they’re clicking. Ole Miss piled up 527 total yards and at one point scored 13 points in 8 seconds.
But neither that nor jumping to a 24-3 lead at home was enough for Ole Miss to slay the Alabama beast this time. Three mistakes — 2 Kelly turnovers and an Eddie Jackson punt-return touchdown — became 21 points.
All of this leads to a question, phrased in the immortal words of Kanye West: “Who gon stop me?” Er, Alabama. Who’s going to stop them?
Not Tennessee. Not Auburn. Not LSU or Arkansas, both of which have tried (and failed) to beat the Crimson Tide at their style of play.
There’s only one team that can match up with Alabama like speedy Ole Miss, and that’s Texas A&M.
Dangerous, right? The Aggies have made September fools of us (me) before. But the parallels between Noel Mazzone and Freeze are easy to draw — simple schemes with several options built into a given play — and there’s the history. Since 2012, only Texas A&M and Ole Miss have beaten Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and Trevor Knight obviously orchestrated the 2014 Sugar Bowl upset with Oklahoma.
We’ll know sooner than later, but for now, this seems like the most plausible bet.
It’s ironic that after the ax incident, Stewart tweeted that “axe = assassins.” Alabama hasn’t been able to sneak up on anybody in a long time. Saban and the gang are up on their mountain, daring the next worthy challenger to approach so they can decapitate another juggernaut.
— Matt Pjesky (@Matt_Pjesky) September 17, 2016
Florida-Tennessee will be … something
ESPN’s College GameDay is headed to Knoxville for this SEC East affair, which now more closely resembles a war of attrition than a fierce rivalry. Tennessee will be without cornerback Cam Sutton; Florida will be without quarterback Luke Del Rio, in all likelihood.
It won’t be pretty, but the matchup should favor the Gators.
The Vols are beat up at a couple of other positions, too. That does little to ease concerns after they clung on for a 28-19 home win against Ohio. Through three games, they rank 69th and 101st in the nation in scoring and total offense, respectively. They have needed overtime and a fourth-quarter score to put away Appalachian State and the Bobcats.
Florida has allowed 14 points through three games. Sure, UMass, Kentucky and North Texas aren’t juggernauts, but why should Josh Dobbs scare anyone in that secondary? Kentucky, which just put up 62 points on Saturday, got eaten alive in The Swamp the week before.
Expect the Gators defense to live in the Tennessee box on Rocky Top.
Sad Ole Miss fan sums up life in Oxford
Twice in three weeks, the Rebels have blown 21-point leads and lost. That by itself is an incredible fact, but pictures are always more telling.
The most recent collapse began with a Hurts-Ridley TD connection, was heightened by Jackson’s 85-yard punt return and culminated with an untouched Crimson Tide blitzer stripping Kelly and big, fat Da’Ron Payne belly-flopping that fumble into the end zone. Lead gone.
And here’s poor Ole Miss dad, wincing in pure agony, as his team’s star quarterback gets wrecked and a convoy of Alabama 5-stars begins celebrating in the end zone. It’s a look not unlike the one Freeze captures in news conferences after fielding questions about the NCAA investigation.
Ryan Anderson strip sack, Payne recovery leads to a sad Ole Miss fan pic.twitter.com/dQnl7K2VTf
— Chris Kirschner (@ChrisKirschner) September 17, 2016
The still-possible threat of more sanctions and the deflating start to 2016 remind us of the giant chance the Rebels missed last season, lost on a freak Arkansas fourth-and-25 conversion. That’s the kind of thing that happens on cold Novembers in Oxford because the football gods are cruel.
There’s got to be all kinds of hurt going on after this game. We feel you, Ole Miss dad.
Vandy and Kentucky: Your tire fires
At this point, pretty much every team in the SEC has something positive going for it. Missouri’s offense looks promising. South Carolina kept a traditionally strong East Carolina spread under wraps. Mississippi State came back to keep things close against LSU.
But three weeks in, Kentucky and Vanderbilt are the conference’s major exceptions.
Sure, you could say Stephen Johnson’s breakout performance for the Wildcats was nice. Stanley Williams set a career high in rushing, too. But allowing 500 total yards and 42 points against New Mexico State?
That pretty much negates any good will they bought themselves and further calls Mark Stoops’ effectiveness as a game manager and tactician into question. The rebuild window has come and gone. These are his players now, and they are not playing.
Then there’s Vandy. Oh, Vandy. Just when you think maybe the Commodores can field a decent *gasp* 5- or 6-win team, they drop a 38-7 stinker to Georgia Tech. Twitter searches for “Derek Mason” produce the expected results.
For two guys who made their bones as defensive coordinators — heck, Jeremy Pruitt basically inherited Stoops’ defense and rode that wave to the national title game — you wouldn’t think this would be their downfall. Stoops has recruited well. Vandy has been on par with years past under Mason.
Being a head coach is never easy, especially with programs like Vandy and Kentucky. But these two games definitely hurt the SEC’s cred as a conference that still plays stout defense and brutally damage the reputations of Mason and Stoops.
Buyouts be damned, it’s time for a fresh start at both schools.
Here’s how I voted in this week’s edition of the official SEC Country Power Poll:
- Alabama — The Tide looked human but, most important, won.
- Texas A&M — Auburn isn’t a bad team; the Aggies are just pretty darn good.
- Ole Miss — The Rebels nearly — and probably should have — pulled a three-peat against Nick Saban.
- Arkansas — Beating Texas A&M this weekend would be massive.
- Florida — Even without Luke Del Rio in the short term, Florida looks much better than its SEC East counterparts.
- Georgia — It wasn’t pretty, but the Bulldogs found a way to beat Mizzou.
- Tennessee — O-H-I-NO!
- LSU — Beating Mississippi State in 2015 was impressive. 2016? Not so much.
- Auburn — The Tigers put up a fight, at least.
- Mississippi State — I’m not sure what to think about this team other than “not great.”
- Missouri — In a year or two, Mizzou could be pretty good.
- South Carolina — Unfortunately, this is the caliber of defense and offense we’ve come to expect from Will Muschamp teams.
- Kentucky — One week after Stoops claimed he’d be more hands-on with the defense, that happens? Gross.
- Vanderbilt — Even worse: getting demolished by Georgia Tech in front of nobody.
Headlines from around the league
- Sources: Florida QB Luke Del Rio’s injury not season ending (Zach Abolverdi, SEC Country)
- Competence at last for LSU at quarterback, and that might be enough for a Tigers run (Kyle Tucker, SEC Country)
- Tennessee football report card: Vols’ 9th straight win ‘gritty,’ not pretty (Mike Griffith, SEC Country)
- Arkansas’ win was a whuppin’, preparing Hogs for first SEC test (Eric Bolin, SEC Country)
- Week 3 SEC bowl projections (Alec Shirkey, SEC Country)
- Alabama proves unbreakable against Ole Miss (Alex Scarborough, ESPN)
- The Hot-Seat Tigers: Are Gus Malzahn and Les Miles Coaching for Their Jobs? (Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report)
- With Heisman hopeful Lamar Jackson in tow, Bobby Petrino’s Louisville return is looking like a stroke of genius (Pat Forde, Yahoo)
Reviewing the predictions
Here’s how I fared in Week 3:
- Ohio at No. 15 Tennessee: Vols allow 200 yards rushing — Frank Solich’s Bobcats only got 88 yards on the ground, but quarterback Greg Windham threw for 230 and this game was way too close and … you get my point. Tennessee keeps tempting fate like this, and sooner or later it will hurt. False.
- Vanderbilt at Georgia Tech: Take the under (42.5) — The Yellow Jackets, who struggled against Mercer the previous week, won 38-7 because Vandy is Vandy. False.
- No. 1 Alabama at No. 19 Ole Miss: Crimson Tide win by 25 — For a while, it looked like this would be dead wrong, and then it looked like I’d be absolutely right, and then Ole Miss scored 13 points in 8 seconds. Football doesn’t always make sense, guys. False.
- East Carolina at South Carolina: Brandon McIlwain breaks out — He started, threw for 195 yards, no interceptions and scored 2 rushing touchdowns. I’ll take it. True.
- New Mexico State at Kentucky: Wildcats get the ground game going (finally) — Stanley “Boom” Williams ran for a career-high 181 yards on a career-high 18 carries, and quarterback Stephen Johnson was incredible. But is anybody still watching? True.
- No. 17 Texas A&M at Auburn: Closest game of the week — The Aggies love making us think they’re great in September. False.
- Mississippi State at No. 20 LSU: Bulldogs cover the spread, Tigers fans cover Death Valley in boos — I’m not sure about the boos, but Mississippi State definitely covered that sucker. True.
- North Texas at No. 23 Florida: Gators pick off another 3 passes — Quarterback Luke Del Rio got picked off by a low hit instead. Ouch. False.
- No. 16 Georgia at Missouri: Tigers pull the upset — One play away from happening. False.
- Texas State at No. 24 Arkansas: Bielema brings sexy back — This always happens regardless of the game’s outcome. Gotta lock in at least one win for myself somehow. True.
What you need to know (besides football)
This is something I really want to see:
.1) @realDonaldTrump $10mm to the charity of YOUR choice if you let ME interview you for 4 hrs on YOUR policies and their substance.
— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) September 16, 2016
Cuban should do the same for Hillary Clinton. If you’ve ever watched him on Shark Tank, you’d know both sit-downs would be must-watch TV. Of course, no political campaign in its right mind ever would agree to that. Presidential candidates employ armies of people whose only job is to control and spread their calculated, predetermined message, which is then parroted and aggregated by a million media outlets. But this is a problem too deep for The Crock Pot to adequately tackle this week; I mean, my fantasy baseball lineup won’t set itself.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: The FX mini-series won big at the Emmys on Sunday night. It’s a fantastically written show that paints a gripping portrait of the trial’s key players, especially the headliners of each legal team. Cuba Gooding is all right as O.J. — certainly less intimidating than his real-life counterpart — but Sarah Paulson (Marcia Clark), Sterling K. Brown (Christopher Darden) and Courtney B. Vance (Johnnie Cochran) all do an outstanding job. Vance particularly has some amazing Cochran outbursts and one-liners. John Travolta is good for a few laughs as Robert Shapiro, too. A recommended watch.
Bad things happen in the world: This is just another reason for me to stay at home and write about football weekends.
While following the Alabama game this weekend, I was critical of Lane Kiffin’s early play calls against Ole Miss. Apparently 5-star Alabama commit Alex Leatherwood agrees with me. He was visiting Auburn this weekend, for what that’s worth.
— Alex Leatherwood (@Alskee_) September 17, 2016
My immediate thought here: Recruits need to tweet less — if only to rid the world of “Top 8” and “Top 11” Twitter announcements, which is the only time anyone under the age of 18 uses the iPhone notes app.