The SEC’s Big Picture: ‘Bama drops the hammer, Florida on the fast track
For all of the surprisingly close games this wild weekend offered, it was two 38-10 blowouts that carried the most weight.
Amid cries of Nick Saban’s dynasty crumbling along with his dinosaur defense, an assertive Alabama team steamrolled UGA in Sanford Stadium just as it did seven years ago, crushing any doubt about the state of the program. Down in The Swamp, first-year coach Jim McElwain has Florida dashing back toward the excellence he oversaw as a Tide offensive coordinator — the same sort of heights not seen by the Gators since Urban Meyer left town.
What’s that about the evolution of college football? It feels an awful lot like 2008 around here.
Here’s a breakdown of the SEC title race after Week 5:
Freeze gets frozen
The “up-and-comer” narrative was nice while it lasted, but coach Hugh Freeze’s squad got horribly exposed by a hungry bunch of Gators. The receivers around freshman quarterback Will Grier, who went 24-of-29 for 271 yards and four touchdowns, torched an Ole Miss secondary that through the first four games made seven interceptions and held opponents below a 60 percent completion rate. McElwain also deserves credit for devising a terrifyingly efficient game plan.
The Rebels still control their path to Atlanta, but time is quickly telling us that their win over Alabama might be an outlier. Chad Kelly can only have so much success when the running game averages two yards per carry.
The real story here is the crystallization of the SEC East, which belongs solely to the Gators. And considering the state of second-place teams UGA and Kentucky, the latter barely surviving against Eastern Kentucky on Saturday, the division sure looks like its Florida’s to lose.
A good ‘ole fashioned ‘Bama beatdown
Just like papa Saban used to make, with some extra pepper in the passing game.
Under sloppy playing conditions, Jake Coker stepped out of his shell and darted pass after pass to the premier receiving talent Alabama recruits every year. But the Saban staples of a punishing ground game and stifling defense still flavored this latest batch; Derrick Henry shouldered ‘Bama’s load at tailback and the Crimson Tide defense made Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey look silly.
How bad was it? UGA’s two quarterbacks completed 11-of-31 passes for 106 yards — less than four yards per throw — and they combined to toss as many interceptions (three) as the number of third-down conversions UGA managed in this one. In this day of air-it-out college football, the degree to which Saban’s secondary locked down the Bulldogs was impressive.
The 12th man emerges?
Say what you want about the constant pairing of Texas A&M and the “dark horse” label, but the Aggies have found a way to keep stacking up quality wins. This week, a decisive 30-17 victory over Mississippi State closed the book on the Bulldogs’ conference title hopes and left the 12th man riding high into the bye week.
Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen might be one of the best to play in the SEC before all is said and done. Pass rusher Myles Garrett and receiver Christian Kirk are making strong cases for SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, respectively. And while the Aggies’ air attack has been imposing as always under Kevin Sumlin, the hiring of defensive coordinator John Chavis finally brought what they’ve lacked: fundamentally sound defense. Alabama’s Week 7 trek to Kyle Field should be real fun to watch.
Projected SEC Championship game, Week 5:
Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. Florida (10-2, 7-1 SEC)
The SEC West is wide open right now, but a motivated Saban team is the most qualified group to traverse the division’s terrifying gauntlet of tough teams. The Gators looked every bit as dominant against the only team to take down the Tide this season. Expect the two schools with a combined 19 SEC Championship appearances to stand tall above the carnage in December.