Saturdays in Athens

George Somerville 

Saturday 17th october 2020

Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.

When I started the column on Monday I thought there was nothing more to talk about than Mizzou beating the “other” Tigers, the scandalous refereeing decision which cost Arkansas a victory over Auburn, and the superlatives needed to describe Najee’s performance against the Rebels.

But as the week has progressed, the SEC has been turned upside down with the news that the covid-19 virus has gripped the xonference. So this week we have had cancelled games with teams struggling to make 53 man rosters, and the biggest new of all that Alabama Head Coach has tested positive for the virus.

But it wasn’t all bad news this week as I was able to jump on a call with Mizzou HC Eli Drinkwitz to hear what he had to say about the victory over LSU, and the postponement of this week’s upcoming game against Vandy. You can read more of what Drinkwitz had to say below.

So yet again its been a crazy busy week in the SEC.

Here are this weeks headlines….

So, let’s get started y’all!

Shoot Out At The Matty Corral

Photo Credit: Various sources, Twitter.com

Oxford, MS.

Alabama 63:48 Ole Miss

The SEC purists will tell us that the conference has gone to hell in a hand cart, jettisoning it’s traditional defensive trench war for high scoring punch for punch slugfests. The likes of which we saw on Saturday.

But on reflection did we just witness something special?

Something which only happens once in a blue moon when the Crimson Tide meets those Ole Miss Rebels?

I was in the stands in Tuscaloosa in 2015 when the Rebels waltzed into town and swaggered back with a 43-37 over a confused and bloodied Tide. That was the second season running that those Rebels had beaten Alabama, and their fans were beside themselves.

Crazy things happen when this “odd couple” match up.

And so it was again on Saturday which might go down in history as a classic.

The 63-48 Crimson Tide victory over the Ole Miss Rebels, created SEC history. In many ways.

The 1,370 yards of total offence is the most ever recorded in a SEC game. 

It is also a record for the most points ever scored in a SEC game.

And with 4.9m viewers it is the most watched college football game this season.

The Ole Miss Offense, led by quarterback Matt Corral had 647 yards in the game. 

And the offensive grandstanding wasn’t just on the Rebels side of the Ball as Mac Jones became the first QB in Alabama football history to have 400+ yards in back to back games.

But of course this offensive wizardry comes at a defensive cost.

The 647 yards which Alabama surrendered tied for the most Alabama has allowed under Saban and eclipsed the 630 Auburn rolled up in the 2014 Iron Bowl that Alabama won 55-44.

It was the most points an unranked team has scored against Alabama in the regular season since 1936.

Alabama’s 723 offensive yards are the most any Crimson Tide offense has had since 1973 (833 vs Virginia Tech).

The two sides combined for 23 possessions and just three punts, noting that there were zero punts in the second half.

It was quite the game.

Coach Saban said after the game

“We’ve had some real crazy games over here. This was another one.”

Of course we all want to know what Kiffin and Saban talked about after the game. We may never know the full conversation but Kiffin gave us this one liner in a conversation with ESPN’s Alex Scarborough. Kiffin said to his former boss,

“I thought they played defense in the SEC”.

Saban’s response is not known at this stage.

#RollTide #HottyToddy

where there's a whistle

Photo Credit: SEC Officiating Twitter

Auburn, AL.

The history books will show that Auburn beat Arkansas 30-28.

What the record books won’t show (probably) is the truly awful call made against Auburn in the final seconds, which bizarrely ended up penalising the Razorbacks. As a result the Tigers were able to kick for a field goal and win the game.

But let us recount the scene.

As the clock ticked down its final seconds of the game and with Auburn within field goal range, Tiger QB Bo Nix fumbled the snap. In doing so he picked the ball up, turned and spiked the ball behind him to stop the clock.

As the spike had been fumbled the ball was live and Arkansas recovered the ball after Nix fired it into the ground. With this, the Razorbacks should have gone onto a second successive victory – and a remarkable one at that having been 17 points down at one stage in the first half.

Except.

The play was reviewed. The outcome of the review was intentional grounding on an incomplete pass with Auburn retaining the ball. Subsequently Auburn kicked the field goal and took, sorry stole, the game. Not that this was Auburn’s fault.

Subsequently the situation got a whole lot worse when SEC Officiating “tweeted” this after the game,

“During the 3rd down play at 0.30 in the fourth quarter, the officials on the field sounded their whistles and blew the play dead as they deemed the passer illegally grounded the ball to conserve time as governed by Rule 7-3-2-f.

 

During the subsequent replay review, there is conclusive evidence that the pass was backwards. However, because recovery of the football was not clearly made in the immediate continuing football action, the ruling on the field was determined to stand under Rule 12-3-2-e-1. Both the determination of a backward pass and the immediate clear recovery are required to reverse the ruling one the field under Rule 12=3=2-e-1.”

Except.

The Arkansas players could clearly be seen recovering the football after the play. Which led the referee to cite that the play was whistled dead.

Which seems like a circular argument.

Sadly it seems nothing else can be done and Arkansas were defeated.

A dejected and disappointed Razorbacks head coach Sam Pittman said immediately after the game,

“I was told it was not a backwards pass”

asked what he saw on the play,

“The same thing you saw, that the ball went back ways six yards. I saw a fumble and a spike that went six yards backwards.”

Auburn, Gus Malzahn said of the same play,

“Yeah, I guess they were saying he fumbled the snap and then got it and then spiked it. It’s what they said.”

Rules expert, Mike Perreira gives his thoughts on the play, below.

Honestly it is a whole sorry mess of very poor officiating.

#WooPigSooie #GoRazorback

How 'Bout Them Tigers

Image Credit: Mizzou Athletics

Columbia, MO.

While its easy to dwell on the fact that the LSU Tigers have got off to the worst start to a season as defending champions since Michgan back in 1999, that would be disingenuous to the Tigers of Missouri.

The Missouri Tigers defeated the Louisiana State Tigers 45-41 in Columbia – a game that was switched from Death Valley as a result of Hurricane Delta.

I wrote in last week’s column that Missouri quarterback Conor Bazelak would make his first start for the tigers, following the announcement that he would be QB1 going forward.

In his first career start, Bazelak completed 29 of 34 passes for 406 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions.

But it was the Mizzou defense that stood firm on four downs at the end of the game and stopped LSU from taking the points.

Therefore it was no surprise that Mizzou head coach Eli Drinkwitz was in good spirits during his weekly press conference which the Touchdown was able to participate in. Drinkwitz was upbeat, despite his side’s upcoming game against Vanderbilt being cancelled due to a significant increase in Covid-19 positive tests within the Vandy team facility.

Drinkwitz started his weekly press conference by re-iterating how proud he was of his players and staff at the effort given to secure the win,

“Proud of our football team, our staff, our organisation for Saturday’s win.

That goal line stand was pretty impressive on tape. The will it took for everybody to stay calm, execute their assignments. Make the plays they played for four straight downs is a testament to our defensive staff and our players and really everybody involved at taking it one play at a time.”

You can see the whole press conference in the link below but couple of weeks ago Drinkwitz was asked about his first visit to Neyland Stadium (to play Tennessee) with limited fans in attendance and whether that would be an advantage to his team, Drinkwitz replied,

“I have no idea. I have never been to Neyland Stadium. I’ve never been to Knoxville, Tennessee. You know that’s the thing about football, a new week brings you a whole new set of challenges. You really have to zone in and focus on what you can control.

 

To me whether there’s 100,000 people in the stand  or whether there are 2,500 cardboard box cut outs its going to be about our team, our energy and our focus. It really doesn’t have anything to do with them.”

I was keen to follow up on the “new challenges” theme so asked Coach Drinkwitz,

“Coach, you were asked a couple of weeks ago about visiting Neyland Stadium and you said everything in the SEC was a new experience. I am curious now that you are a third of the way into the season how your SEC experience has matched up against your expectations”,

Coach Drinkwitz replied,

“You know, Neyland Stadium was really cool. I had never been there before. Obviously in my mind I was thinking, wow – wonder what it would be like if it had 107,000 people there.

Same thing Saturday was a great moment. It was a great win. Kind of wondered to yourself what it would have been like had it been sold out. So I think one thing that we re all missing is the gameday atmosphere. Its just not the same. That’s what makes SEC football what it is. The phrase, “it just means more” it really does mean more to the SEC and you’re missing that contagious energy that the fans provide at the game.

 

As far as on the field, you expect to play great opponents you expect every player you go against is a really good player and that’s been the case. Its no different. I spent some time watching Florida,its going to be the same there.  There’s great players all across the board in every uniform”.

#GoTigers

Wheels Are Off The Bandwagon

The SEC Is Back
Image Credit:AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Starkville, MS.

I have waxed lyrical about the way in which Mike Leach led his team to their first SEC win against LSU. Which was quite the debut result.

Two games later we know two more things. The LSU Tigers have a whole heap of problems defensively. And so do the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Since that emphatic win over the Tigers, State lost to Arkansas (21-14) and last weekend fell to Kentucky 24-2. Yes, that’s right, the seemingly unstoppable air raid offensive scheme did not register a single point to a Kentucky team which went into this game at 0-2.

So what is going wrong with the Mississippi State Bulldogs and have the wheels fallen off the Mike Leach bandwagon so early in a season?

Well Coach Leach’s comments post the loss suggest so. Leach had this to say after the Kentucky game,

“Long story short, offensively we aren’t coaching very well right now. I mean we have to coach better.

 

If you look at this game, nearly every problem that we had was self-inflicted.

 

With a lot of respect to Kentucky, one self-inflicted wound after the next.

 

The turnovers – some were byproducts of dumb turnovers. Others were byproducts of somebody not being in the right place, or our guy not moving as fast as their guy or getting pressure.

 

A number of them, the problem was throwing the ball. We’ve got to become a better offense. We’ve got a new system, some youth and inexperience. We’ve just got to stick together and coach our way through it.”

 

Perhaps Leach’s most telling comment was about players not quite buying into his philosophy. Leach had this to say about players not won over yet,

“We’re going to have to check some of our group and figure out who really wants to play here. Because any malcontents, we’re going to have to purge a couple of those.”

#HailState

Covid Around The Conference

SEC Football
Photo credit: TheSportsGeek.com

Birmingham, AL.

As I said in the intro the news has changed dramatically this week – essentially driven by the increased number of positive results for Covid-19 received since Saturday. So this section focuses on the various stories coming out of team facilities this weeks.

SABAN TESTS POSITIVE

Wednesday, Alabama Athletics issued a statement saying,

“Early this afternoon, we received notification that Coach Saban and (AD) Greg Byrne tested positive for Covid-19. Both immediately left the facility and went to their homes to self isolate  after receiving that information”.

Coach Saban added via a statement,

“I informed our team of my positive test at 2pm today on a zoom call and let them know offensive co-ordinator Steve Sarkisian will overseas preparations at the complex while I work from home”.

And here is a stat for all you stat-heads out there. The last time Nick Saban was not on the sidelines in charge of the Crimson Tide was December 28th 2006 – 5,042 days come Saturday’s game against Georgia.

LSU AT FLORIDA OFF!

After Dan Mullen’s unfortunate comments about wanting to have the Swamp full of fans for the visit of LSU, we found out midweek that the game has been postponed as a result of a spike in positive results at the Gators facility.

As at the time of writing Florida had 21 positive cases (18 scholarship players and three walk-ons) with athletic director Scott Stricklin advising that the players and staff members who tested positive are either asymptomatic or were experiencing mild symptoms.

However, taking into consideration those positive cases and non-COVID-related injured players, Florida has less than 50 scholarship players available.

The game has been tentatively re-scheduled for December 12th.

MIZZOU AT VANDY OFF!

Any momentum Mizzou had gained as a result of the fantastic victory over LSU last weekend was surely lost with the news that their next game at Vanderbilt had been postponed.

Going in to their 41-7 loss to South Carolina last weekend, Vanderbilt had 56 fit players available.

SEC medical guidance states that a team must have 53 available players for a game to go ahead.

And on Monday, Vanderbilt Athletics advised that the number of fit players had fallen below the minimum number required. 

This was the first SEC game this season to be postponed, although as the Florida LSU game shows, there will be more to come.

The game has been tentatively rescheduled for December 12th.

SAINTS MOVE TO TIGER STADIUM!

And finally, news out of New Orleans this week with the ongoing lockdown in the City and the NOLA Mayor refusing any fans inside the Superdome, that New Orleans Saints were in discussion with LSU Athletics to host Saints games in Baton Rouge.

In a statement issued this week Saints VP of Communcations, Greg Bensel said,

“We can confirm that our game operations staff is meeting with LSU officials today to discuss potentially hosting future Saints home games at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.

LSU has been gracious and enthusiastic regarding hosting our future games and we very much appreciate their partnership.

We have also discussed the possibility of moving our home games to LSU with the NFL and they are aware of our exploring this option. Obviously, our overwhelming preference is to play our games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with partial fan attendance but there has been no indication from the city on when, or if, this might be approved.”

So far this season, the Saints have been unable to have any fans in attendance due to the fact that the Superdome is an indoor stadium.

New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell, who has come under some pressure in the past weeks said Thursday,

“While the Saints’ request for a special exception to the city’s COVID-19 guidelines remains under consideration, allowing 20K people in an indoor space presents significant public health concerns. At present, no NFL stadium in the country with a fixed-roof facility is allowing such an exception. We will continue to monitor the public health data, but cannot set an artificial timeline for how and when conditions may allow for the kind of special exemption being requested.”

LSU has to date allowed fans into Tiger Stadium while limiting attendance to 25% of capacity.

#ItJustMeansMore

SIA: SEC Player Of The Week

Photo credit: RollTide.Com

Offense is king in the SEC just now, with many fans thinking that their teams have forgotten how to stop offenses from scoring and defensive co-ordinators coming under fire.

So, it seems only right that the SIA SEC Player of the week goes to yet another player who continues to give defensive coaches sleepless nights.

This week’s SEC Player of the week is Alabama’s star running back, Najee Harris.

With credit to Alabama Athletics, Najee’s stats from Saturday’s game against the Rebels were as follows,

  • Carried the ball 23 times for 206 yards and five touchdowns
  • The yardage and touchdown totals were both career-high marks for the senior
  • Scored from five, 33, three, 16 and 39 yards out with the 39-yarder sealing the win for Alabama
  • Also caught three passes for 42 yards, converting a Tide first down on each reception
  • Totaled 10 rushing touchdowns through three games, the most in the SEC in at least the last 15 seasons

So it was no surprise that Najee was named the Maxwell Player of the week. How Najee and Travis Etienne square off in the race for the Heisman is going to be fascinating viewing.

#RollTideRoll

GEORGE SOMERVILLE

COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER

A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.

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