If Tennessee had been able to pull out a win in College Station, the race for “play of the year” already would be over.
Vols cornerback Malik Foreman lucked out in Week 5, when his blown coverage against Georgia immediately was forgotten in favor of “The Heave Between the Hedges.” Saturday at Texas A&M, he was back in the doghouse for more blown coverage and a pass-interference penalty.
In the third quarter, however, he dug himself out by deflecting a Trevor Knight pass that was promptly intercepted.
Then, with Aggies true freshman running back Trayveon Williams racing toward a game-clinching touchdown, Foreman did the impossible:
YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING!!!!
TENNESSEE TAKES OVER ON THE TOUCHBACK. https://t.co/WvQX4T347x
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) October 8, 2016
In a stunning twist, A&M actually rebounded to win the game and put an end to Tennessee’s weekly magic act (21-0 lead? Zap! 28-7? Bang!). But for a full 15 minutes — from the time the Vols scored to get within 7 points to Josh Dobbs’ game-ending interception — viewers were standing up in their living rooms, hands on their heads.
It opened a great debate: What have been the most entertaining SEC games this season? Here’s one man’s list:
6. Auburn 18, LSU 13
Known forevermore as “The Game That Finally Got Les Canned.” Louisiana State appeared to have a game-winning touchdown throw with 0:00 on the clock, but replays overturned the call, and the Auburn sideline went berserk.
5. Georgia 28, Missouri 27
Whenever Jacob Eason leaves Georgia and gets picked in the first round of the NFL draft, we can point back to this game as his launch point. The true freshman dropped in a perfect touchdown pass on fourth-and-10 to lead the Bulldogs past Drew Lock and the rival Tigers.
4. Tennessee 38, Florida 28
The final minutes lacked the sort of drama seen on the rest of this list, but we got more than enough great moments before the Vols put it away. Tennessee overcame a 21-0 deficit and put an end to an 11-year losing streak to the hated Gators.
3. Alabama 48, Ole Miss 43
This was the Rebels’ second September disaster. Ole Miss got out to a 24-3 lead — sending an elderly Alabama fan to the hospital in the process — before watching it disappear in a flash to ‘Bama, which in turn nearly let a seemingly safe fourth-quarter lead slip away to Chad Kelly and the home side.
2. Tennessee 34, Georgia 31
Two long touchdown throws in the span of 10 seconds turned a close rivalry game into an instant classic. We saw a heroic bullet from Eason and then one hell of a Hail Mary from Dobbs to Jauan Jennings. It was all too much for Butch.
1. Texas A&M 45, Tennessee 38 (2OT)
Nothing could top that UT-UGA finish, right? It’s a neck-and-neck battle, but you have to give it to the game last Saturday based on the sheer impossibility of Tennessee finding itself in position to win after Williams was racing toward the goal line for a presumed 14-point lead with 1:49 left.
Throw in a missed 38-yard field goal to send the game to overtime — and then a pair of nerve-racking kicks to send it to a second extra period — and you have an all-timer. It’s a shame this one ended in anticlimactic fashion on the Dobbs pick, but any further madness would’ve been bad for public health. Here’s hoping we get plenty more games that can top this one in 2016.
A tale of three hits
Texas A&M walk-on Cullen Gillaspia has the honor of wearing uniform No. 12 in front of the 12th Man this season at Kyle Field. Saturday, he became one of the central figures of A&M’s dramatic win against Tennessee.
Gillaspia was involved in three brutal helmet-to-helmet collisions — two legal, one illegal — against the Vols. On the first, he effectively knocked Tennessee kick returner Evan Berry out cold with a head-on blow:
The play was completely legal; Gillaspia had Berry, a ball carrier, sized up. Berry knew the hit was coming. Yet the “perfect” placement of Gillaspia’s helmet was enough to force a fumble and send Berry to the turf, body limp.
Tennessee’s special teams unit noticed. It specifically targeted Gillaspia on a following return, forcing him out of bounds on a double-team block that drew a controversial flag.
That wasn’t enough. A punt return provided a chance for brutal revenge:
This play was rightfully determined illegal, and Tennessee’s Nigel Warrior was ejected for targeting the defenseless Gillaspia, who waved goodbye to Warrior from the sideline.
The third hit in question was friendly fire. Gillaspia had Vols returner Alvin Kamara wrapped up when teammate Shaan Washington launched himself at Kamara. Washington missed, slamming into Gillaspia. The hit sent both Aggies to the turf in pain:
This trio of plays is the perfect example of football’s contradictory violence: One helmet-to-helmet hit that was completely legal, one helmet-to-helmet hit that was clearly illegal and one helmet-to-helmet hit that was accidental.
The game we know and love always will have inherent violence (especially at the line of scrimmage), but these hits are further examples of why we might see kickoffs and punts be dramatically altered in the coming years.
No perfect path on hurricane weekend
Blue skies on Saturday afternoon in Gainesville, Fla., and a beautiful day on Sunday in Columbia, S.C., gave plenty of people ammunition for their “Gators should’ve played” argument.
But one needed only to look north to Raleigh, N.C., to see what happens when you fail to prepare for an ugly scenario. North Carolina State and Notre Dame played the most atrocious college football game of the season in a mud pit plagued by incessant wind and rain.
Hurricane Matthew’s overall effect was not as devastating as originally projected, but it still had enough power to do severe damage to the Atlantic coast and make the Wolfpack and Fighting Irish look like utter fools:
Weather conditions making things, umm, interesting with Notre Dame and NC State https://t.co/YaXUazXBOw
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) October 8, 2016
Notre Dame-NC State is going great. pic.twitter.com/pfqeBzo8Bb
— SI Extra Mustard (@SI_ExtraMustard) October 8, 2016
Football weather? Ehhhh.
NC State defeats Notre Dame, 10-3 in a game marred by heavy rain ☔️? pic.twitter.com/BDMkjPYXPs
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 8, 2016
Really enjoying the Notre Dame-NC State game. pic.twitter.com/g3rw4fxhMc
— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) October 8, 2016
While the Florida-LSU debate rages on — “Will they play???” — it’s tough to fault the University of Florida for deciding not to play football this past weekend, even as several other programs in the region did the opposite.
So, when the weather cleared, and the jokes began, the Gainesville Police Department had a sobering reminder for the Twitter community:
To the football fans using this tweet as a joke about the UFvsLSU game…stop it. This major storm killed hundreds on its way to our area. https://t.co/G4ZiRkPhcE
— Gainesville Police (@GainesvillePD) October 7, 2016
Our own Kyle Tucker also pointed out that more than 50 Florida players had families in the path of the hurricane, and those we caught up with were glad the Gators moved the game.
More SEC moments that caught our eye
- Arkansas offensive lineman Frank Ragnow of Victoria, Minn., lost his father this week. Alabama coach Nick Saban — who also lost his father while in college — made sure to offer his condolences to Ragnow after the game Saturday night in Fayetteville.
An older man who lost his Dad in his college yrs building up a younger man who just lost his. More than a player&coach.Bigger than the game pic.twitter.com/wFKmSPaA56
— matt stinchcomb (@mstinch79) October 9, 2016
- We also saw a scarier side of Saban on Saturday night:
Saban going berserk is both captivating and terrifying. pic.twitter.com/z8qHNlc2rC
— Justin King (@JustinKing) October 9, 2016
- Tennessee has been so adept at coming back from early deficits that CBS’ Gary Danielson spoke for everyone when the Vols fell behind in the first quarter. “If I’m a Tennessee fan, I’m out cutting the grass,” Danielson said with a laugh. “I don’t really need to see this.”
- Mississippi State fell behind 35-0 against Auburn at home, looking disinterested in the process:
Mississippi State is… Not ready to play today… pic.twitter.com/tNUUwfSoFt
— Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff) October 8, 2016
If Mississippi State had any @&!?s left, they're gone. Didn't even go for the ball lol pic.twitter.com/Y3drfDYYUL
— Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff) October 8, 2016
- College kickers are awful, Exhibit A: Mississippi State’s Westin Graves (you may remember him for his Week 1 miss in the loss to South Alabama) pulled a 28-yarder left with the score tied, 0-0, and the Bulldogs having just picked off Sean White to swing momentum in the home team’s favor (MSU would not score until the third quarter).
- College kickers are awful, Exhibit B: Texas A&M’s Daniel LaCamera had a chance to beat Tennessee from 38 yards out, dead middle of the field. But he fell victim to Butch Jones’ pair of “freeze” timeouts, yanking the kick so far left that viewers knew it was no good from the moment it left his foot. (LaCamera redeemed himself with a game-tying 34-yarder in overtime).
- South Carolina’s defense was decent in a 28-14 loss to Georgia (no surprise there), but UGA fans should be a little worried about Jacob Eason. The true freshman struggled through most of the Week 5 loss to Tennessee, and then went 5-of-17 for 29 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception against the Gamecocks. Might we see more of Greyson Lambert this autumn?
Muschamp asked about defending Jacob Eason. "They threw it 17 times. That was probably 17 too many."
— David Caraviello (@dcaraviello) October 9, 2016
Non-SEC moments that caught our eye
- Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Ann Arbor posted a deal before the weekend: For every point that Michigan defeated Rutgers by, customers could take 1 percent off their orders. Naturally, Michigan won by 78 points, causing the ad to go viral. The discount was capped at 50 percent, but MLive.com reports that, as of Sunday afternoon, the Ann Arbor Ruth’s Chris is booked through Thursday.
- Miami fans were so upset by a targeting call in the fourth quarter of the Hurricanes’ 20-19 loss to Florida State that they began throwing debris into the end zone.
- To make matters worse, Hurricanes kicker Michael Badgley (who had converted 72 consecutive extra points) had his point-after attempt blocked by the Seminoles’ DeMarcus Walker after an apparent game-tying touchdown.
Florida State Blocks Miami's Extra point https://t.co/P4XaehIIJ8
— Gustavo Vega (@iamvega1982) October 9, 2016
- Up the coast, Florida Atlantic had its apparent game-winning Hail Mary overturned by replay:
Our moment of Glory – overturned ??? pic.twitter.com/o1E88ULrgK
— FAU Owl's Nest (@TheOwlsNest_ITB) October 9, 2016
- After Byron Pringle returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, his Kansas State teammate rewarded him with a punch to the gut:
— SB✯Nation CFB (@SBNationCFB) October 9, 2016
According to KnightCrier.com, North Penn (Towamencin, Pa.) High School never had fielded a female football player until Kelly Macnamara, a junior, arrived. Here she is laying “the boom” on a speedy kick returner this week:
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 10, 2016
A moment of acknowledgment
Pittsburgh is not a great football team, but it looks like one. The Panthers blended modern colors with a throwback look early in the season …
… and then went full Tony Dorsett throwback on Saturday:
The Panthers also managed to throw a touchdown pass to an offensive lineman on Saturday, so there’s really no reason you shouldn’t be making them your favorite non-SEC team for the remainder of the season.
— Stephen Nelson (@Stephen__Nelson) October 8, 2016
Eye on the Playoff
Many teams are halfway through their regular-season schedules, which means we’ve mostly sorted out the pretenders in the College Football Playoff race. Here’s one man’s projection of how the final poll will look:
- (1) Ohio State vs. (4) Louisville
- (2) Clemson vs. (3) Alabama
Another big win against Michigan in the “Big Game” will be enough to sway the committee that Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes are worthy of top billing, while one-loss Alabama will breeze into the Playoff after body-slamming whichever poor SEC East team decides to show up in Atlanta.
Undefeated Clemson wins the ACC championship. Washington’s late-season demise (including an upset loss in the Pac-12 title game) provides an open spot for Lamar Jackson and one-loss Louisville.
There’s a chance the SEC could place two teams in the field, but Texas A&M likely would need to beat the Crimson Tide in a close game on Oct. 22.