(Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE)
After a first half of the season that probably can best be described as “frustrating,” the braintrust sat down over the bye week and figured out how to right the ship. Against Georgia, despite adversity, injuries, and a 13-point fourth quarter deficit, we rallied to save our season.
Texas A&M Week
There isn’t much time to sit around celebrating – next up we face Texas A&M and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in College Station. A&M has scored over 40 points in every game this year and we have not beaten ranked teams in back-to-back weeks since 1955.
Through the first half of the year, defense had not been our strong suit. Yet, coming off the bye week, our defense rose up in inspired fashion – holding Georgia to 221 yards of total offense. Aaron Murray threw for only 114 yards. In the second half, Georgia was shut down almost completely. We also forced three turnovers, in addition to exploiting a botched punt snap – and our offense took advantage of these opportunities.
The offense also helped the defense by keeping Murray & Co. off the field – en route to 21 first downs, Vandy put together sustained drives and dominated time of possession 35:10 to 24:50. With Austyn Carta-Samuels going down to injury, the O-line and running game stepped up, and Patton Robinette filled in effectively.
Texas A&M’s defensive woes are well-chronicled. They are last in the SEC in scoring defense and total defense (giving up almost 500 yards per game.) This is even more notable since they do not have to play themselves. Last week Auburn had a hundred yard receiver, two different hundred yard rushers and five ball carriers who each averaged at least five yards per carry. Just as keeping Murray off the field was effective last week, keeping Johnny Manziel and Mike “Too Tall” Evans off the field this week would be well-advised. Of course, Manziel is banged up and his status is somewhat cloudy. Running QBs have been our Achilles’ heel and Manziel is the best of the bunch if he is healthy. Just the same, the soundness of his multi-million dollar shoulder is not something to be risked foolishly. There is a big drop-off behind him.
As for our offense, it seems likely Robbinette will be back under center this week. A&M’s weakness against the run would suggest an emphasis on feeding our trio of RBs Jerron Seymour, Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow. Of course, A&M knows what to expect – and may stuff the box against a first-time starter QB. Robinette, however, has looked poised and sharp in limited action. This road match-up seems slightly less imposing than it did when the schedule first came out.
* * *
The SEC starts early this week – with a Thursday game between MSU and Kentucky. MSU is favored by ten and it is kind of a desperation game for both squads. MSU is trying to figure out how it can get to six wins – UK has bigger problems. Neither team has a conference win yet. MSU likely survives – but expect UK to be fired up for a national TV affair.
In the East, the marquee match-up is South Carolina at Mizzou. I was a believer in Mizzou with James Franklin at the helm – and now I am a believer in Mizzou with Maty Mauk in charge. SC’s QB situation is unclear going into this one, with Connor Shaw once again banged up. It should start sinking in – Missouri is really good. And all their nearest competitors are ravaged by injuries. Missouri is going to win the East if they beat SC (and likely even if they don’t.) While that pressure could play tricks on them this week, they are home and they are the better team.
UT showed me something by beating SC. Last year’s 5-7 Vols were only a few bounces from being 7-5 or better. Still, Butch Jones has implemented a serious attitude adjustment and the Vols have been really good – at home. What makes this week’s game interesting is Oregon’s 59-14 dismantling of the Vols earlier this season. Given Oregon’s margin-of-massacre, if Bama struggles with UT it could cost them in the national media beauty pageant. Bama has won its five games since the A&M match-up by a combined score of 201 to 16. No one has scored in double digits on the Tide during that stretch. How the Vols fare in this difficult setting will tell a lot about the progress Butch Jones has made. Vegas marks UT as a 28 point underdog.
A fair number of cupcake games slip into the rest of the schedule – LSU hosts Furman, Idaho visits Ole Miss, Florida Atlantic takes on Auburn. Arkansas has an extra week to tend to their wounds. Georgia and Florida also have byes as they gear up for what will likely be a death-match in two weeks. The loser of that game will drop to 4-4 and 3-3 in Conference, startling territory for these perennial front-runners.
After the SEC chaos of last week-end, almost anything seems possible. Pre-season, I pegged our trip to face the nation’s best dual threat QB as our toughest match-up of the year. Suddenly, Manziel is banged up, A&M can’t stop the run, and we are coming off our most complete game of the season. Sometimes one game – like the inspired effort over Georgia – really can change everything.