Anybody hot … or not?
It’s that time again as we review the week that was in the SEC.
Alabama’s intel: Alabama’s defense was already fired up thanks to what the Tide perceived as smack talk by some of the Ole Miss players leading up to the game. Let’s face it: There’s a fine line sometimes between a player answering a question honestly and his comments mushrooming into full-blown bulletin board material. Either way, the Alabama defense was amped by some of the things Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace was quoted as saying earlier in the week, even though what Wallace said was pretty tame. We’re not exactly talking about any “Archie who?” banter here. But where the Crimson Tide really stuck it to the Rebels was with a little inside intel thanks to Tyler Siskey, Alabama’s assistant director of football operations. Siskey was on the Ole Miss staff last season as director of recruiting development. He was in the Alabama coaches' booth for the game with a set of binoculars, and even though Ole Miss changed up its signals, there weren’t many times that the Tide were fooled by what the Rebels were doing offensively. As ESPN analyst Todd Blackledge noted during the broadcast, Siskey’s knowledge of the Ole Miss offense was a big asset to an already imposing Alabama defense in its preparation for the game. The Tide might not have had the Rebels’ signals, but they were sure locked in to the Rebels’ tendencies on offense and played lights-out in shutting out a Hugh Freeze-coached team for the first time in his college career.
Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines: When you start reeling off the top cornerbacks in this league, don’t forget about Gaines. He’s off to a terrific start to the season. In the 41-19 win over Arkansas State, he had nine total tackles, including one for loss, and his third interception of the season to set up Missouri’s final touchdown. Gaines is more than just a cover guy. He leads the Tigers with 19 solo tackles.
LSU’s defense: The Tigers have a way to go defensively. When you lose as many good defensive players early to the NFL draft as they have over the last couple of years, that kind of talent drain has a way of catching up with even the best defenses. Veteran coordinator John Chavis knew this defense would be a work in progress, but seeing all the blown coverages in the 44-41 loss at Georgia and wide-open receivers running free in the LSU secondary was difficult for anybody on that LSU staff to stomach.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray: So much for the “can’t win the big game” label. Murray has been fabulous in Georgia’s two wins over top-10 teams this season, with eight touchdown passes and just one interception. There’s no substitute for his experience, and it shows in the way he’s carving apart defenses right now.
SEC defenses: Only one SEC team (Florida at No. 2) is ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense this week. For that matter, only two are ranked in the top 20. Mississippi State is 20th. In scoring defense, Alabama is still among the national leaders at No. 13. The offenses have taken center stage this season in the SEC, and suddenly the defenses are trying to catch up. Keep in mind, too, that six of the seven national champions during the SEC’s streak have finished in the top 10 nationally in total defense.
South Carolina running back Mike Davis: He’s the SEC’s rushing leader heading into the month of October and seemingly gets better every week. He carried the Gamecocks in the 28-25 win over UCF after Connor Shaw went down, and finished with a career-high 167 yards and three touchdowns. He has had a run of 50 yards or longer in three of his four games.
Schedule balance: Talk about a contrast in October schedules. Alabama doesn’t play anyone that should come within 20 points of the Crimson Tide (and that’s being kind) until LSU comes to town on Nov. 9. Arkansas, meanwhile, has Florida, South Carolina and Alabama over the next three weeks, and Florida and Alabama are on the road. Tennessee gets Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama in October. Ole Miss also has a tough October stretch that will go a long way toward shaping the Rebels’ season. They travel to Auburn this weekend and then come back home for back-to-back games against Texas A&M and LSU. Georgia gets a little bit of a break, although the Bulldogs do have to go on the road to face both Tennessee and Vanderbilt in October. Given their September gantlet (three top-10 opponents), nothing should seem too daunting the rest of the way.
Staying healthy: Geez, what a bad week on the injury front for a handful of SEC teams and players. Florida was already reeling after losing starting quarterback Jeff Driskel to a season-ending injury two weeks ago against Tennessee. And then last week in practice, star defensive tackle Dominique Easley was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Easley was playing as well as any defensive lineman in the league. This past weekend, we saw South Carolina quarterback Shaw go down with a right (throwing) shoulder sprain that will sideline him for two to three weeks. Alabama will be without starting center Ryan Kelly for two to three weeks after he suffered an MCL injury to his knee, and Georgia running back Todd Gurley injured his ankle in the win over LSU. Georgia coach Mark Richt said Gurley would be “day-to-day” in preparation for Saturday’s game at Tennessee and wouldn’t need any kind of surgery. The Bulldogs played the final three quarters without Gurley. Texas A&M defensive tackle Kirby Ennis had to leave the Arkansas game with a left knee injury. Depending on the severity of Ennis’ injury, he will have some extra time to recover. The Aggies are off this week before traveling to Ole Miss on Oct. 12.