Saturdays in Athens
GEORGE SOMERVILLE – THE TOUCHDOWN SEC CORRESPONDENT
Saturday, 25th november 2023
Appreciate I am a few days late but Happy Thanksgiving y’all! The fact that you are still eating turkey leftovers means only one thing! All good things must come to an end. We have reached the final week in the SEC football regular season. But, as so often is the case, the best has been left to last because its rivalry week in SEC football!
Yes, its time for the Iron Bowl, the Egg Bowl & the Palmetto Bowl. In fact there are rivalry games going on wherever you look!
Which means there will be all the passion, excitement, drama and chaos you have come to expect from SEC football. And let me tell you this, I am here for it ALL!
So welcome y’all to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.
Here are this weeks headlines….let’s get started!
Sam Pittman survives!
I wrote last week about the pressure Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman found himself under.
However, last Saturday Arkansas defeated FIU 44-20 to take the Razorbacks to a 4-7 record (1-6 in conference play). While that might not sound like a great season record, it was just enough for Big Sam to keep his job.
With that victory in the bag, Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek confirmed that Pittman would remain in situ for next season.
“Our team was extremely excited last night after the game when I informed them that Coach Pittman is our head coach and will be moving forward into the 2024 season,” Yurachek said via a press statement.
“This has not been the season any of us anticipated. We have work to do. I am confident that together, we can meet the goals and expectations of our program. I want to thank the many Razorback fans who have supported our team this season. I look forward to honoring our seniors and cheering on this team on Friday as we take on Missouri”
There is no doubting that Arkansas’ schedules over the last 3 years have been brutal – amongst the hardest in all of college football. But truth is with Kendall Briles at Offensive Co-ordinator, the Razorbacks far out performed expectations.
However when Briles moved on and Dan Enos took over, the handover was far from seamless. Enos didn’t last the season and took the fall for the dismal offensive showing this season.
Of paramount importance for Pittman will be finding that offensive co-ordinator that can get the Razorbacks on track again.
I for one am really glad that Sam stays. The SEC is better for it.
12th man tradition
College Station, TX
If you don’t know the tradition of the 12th Man at Texas A&M then I urge you to get your nose in a book or watch one of the excellent documentaries about the story.
But if you don’t have time to carry out some due diligence let me take you back to 1922. When the legend of the 12th Man was created. It started due to a number of injuries on the team. The result being that a replacement was plucked from the crowd to take the place of one of the injured players. And so the legend of the 12th man was created.
Roll forward to the 1980’s with Jackie Sherrill as head coach. Sherrill created an all walk-on kick off special team. However this was no sentimental gesture. The walk on team had something to prove and were very effective holding teams to the lowest return yardage in the league. With Sherrill moving on, new head coach RC Slouch disbanded the walk-on specialists electing to have only one walk on player on the field at any one time.
Well, fast forward to last Saturday when Aggies interim head coach, Elijah Robinson decided to do more than a tip of the hat to the 12th man. He recreated it. So on Saturday in Kyle Field, the Aggies kick off return team for one play was made up of all walk-on players.
And the 12th Man gave a fantastic response. They forced a fumble on the return creating a turnover. To say Kyle Field exploded was an under statement.
As you can see below, they enjoyed it. There is a call for it to happen again this week. Next game up is LSU which is a different proposition from Christian Abilene, but let’s hope the tradition continues.
It was a nice touch from Coach Robinson.
Iron Bowl preview
Last Saturday, Alabama beat the University of Chattanooga 66-10. Conversely, Auburn was defeated by New Mexico State 33-10.
Bizarrely going into Saturday’s Iron Bowl game in Jordan Hare stadium on Saturday, none of this matters. It’s the Iron Bowl and anything can happen.
So here we are in the lead up to the biggest rivalry game in the South East Conference. As you would expect both teams made themselves available for the press in the lead up to the game.
First up was the Crimson Tide.
The Crimson Tide have the opportunity this weekend to win four Iron Bowls in succession – something which hasn’t been done since the Bear Bryant era.
“the Iron Bowl is one of the great rivalry games in college football” Saban told the media on Monday.
“It’s something you look forward to as a competitor and its a great opportunity to be able to play in”.
However, Coach Saban wasn’t getting into the why’s and wherefores of setting any kinds of records or oneupmanship.
“I don’t think that anybody needs to ay attention to what happened in the past, what happened in the last game, what somebody’s record is. Anytime you play in a rivalry game it’s going to be highly competitive, tough – a very physical game and that’s what everybody needs to get ready for”.
Which as we know, Coach Saban’s message to his team – don’t think too far ahead in this game as it will bite you on the backside!
Playing Auburn in Jordan Hare is a different proposition for Alabama given the atmosphere inside the stadium. Saban was asked about what his team needed to do to win on Saturday.
“if we’re going to have success there, we’re going to have to execute” said Saban about playing in Jordan Hare, one of college football’s loudest atmospheres.
“anytime you play on the road in this league it’s a difficult place to play – this is no different….but you know people talk about all the crazy stuff that happens in this game but since I’ve been here the team that should have won the game, won the game”.
There’s always a left field question in these types of environments and Saban was asked about half time adjustments, following a quote made by Bill Belichick.
“I love Bill, don’t get me wrong but I don’t always agree with him – I didn’t always agree with him when I worked with him before” Saban said laughing.
“and I’m sure he’ll say he didnt always agree with me but you know we’re making adjustments following every series”.
Given the Tigers defeat to New Mexico State, Hugh Freeze cut a different figure to his Alabamian counterpart in Tuscaloosa, when he met with the press Monday.
“about as disappointing as I have ever been in coaching” Freeze opened his presser with.
“It was an embarrassment and it can’t happen like that. It starts with me. I have to get our players and coaches ready to play and I obviously missed the mark tremendously”
It was clear that Freeze remained downbeat even into the new week of practice.
“we’ve got to quickly turn the page and out that behind us for sure, because we all know what the Iron Bowl means to so many”
“What a rivalry to be a part of. We are going to try to educate our young men as best we can with the use of former players and the history of this great game and hopefully they have a clear understanding of what it means to so many people”
The first question set to Freeze was whether his team had what it takes to turn the performance around to beat Alabama.
“I don’t know yet. I sure hope so. That’s part of this game…if you play this game or coach this game long enough you’re going to have some of those and how you respond to it will determine a lot about you as a team and as a person. I wish I had a better pulse for that but I havent seen them yet”.
Freeze went on..
“everybody has a choice about how you respond to what you’re dealing with and we’ll all have that choice this week”.
“I would hope that if they’ve got any type of competitive spirit in them as an individual they’re going to shake off the cobwebs and get ready for this war that they’re getting ready to go in to and it will be that”.
And you can bet that all the coaching staff had the team watching this press conference because their head coach could not have been clearer in the message he was sending.
It’s 10 years since the legendary kick-six game in Jordan Hare. When the Tigers’ Chris Davis returned a short field goal attempt by Alabama for over 100 yards in a walk-off game-winning score for Auburn.
Can the Tigers win again in Jordan Hare and stop Alabama’s charge towards a place in the CFB Playoff? Well stranger things have happened in Auburn and the crowd will be congregating on Toomer’s corner hoping for a win!
Game kicks off at 3.30pm ET(8.30pm UK time) and is live on CBS Sports for those who have access.
Egg Bowl memories
At the start of the week I thought I would end up writing a review of the Egg Bowl, because the battle between the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University is one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football.
In truth, while the passion as there, it wasn’t a classic and by the time you read this it is already yesterday’s news.
But, a couple of stories came out of the game. First up the victors, Ole Miss. It has been 12 months, one year since State head coach Mike Leach coached in his last game.
After the game on Thursday night, Lane Kiffin shared his thoughts on playing in that game last year and losing his good friend, Coach Leach
“Excited to get the trophy back,” Kiffin said. “That was really painful last year to lose that. But, you know, kind of thought maybe that if you’re ever going to lose it – once we learned later on that that was Coach Leach’s last game – maybe that was meant to be. So, I miss him. Missed him today. And we’ll never forget him.”
Kiffin was in reflective mood and took the opportunity to pay tribute to the Pirate.
“He was an amazing person and always had such great stories, always enjoyed being around him,”
“I feel like he was brilliant in kind of a different way than maybe the coach speak thing. He was really brilliant that he could have a system, run the same system for 20-30 years and it would still work. I mean, he came into the SEC and threw for 600 yards on LSU that time. Nobody’s done that.”
With the victory over their State rivals, the Rebels have now secured their second 10-win year in subsequent seasons. Kiffin doesn’t think his team will get credit for this from the CFB Playoff committee, but pointed out that the two losses came to Alabama and Georgia. Both of which were on the road.
Kiffin posed the question about the stumbles the other two-loss teams had on their resume. Questioning if anyone had it tougher than the Rebels.
He makes a point.
The other story, which hasn’t happened yet, but is hotly rumoured is the expected move into the transfer portal by Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback, Will Rogers.
Per Matt Zenitz of 247 Sports, Rogers is expected to enter the portal as a graduate transfer.
Rogers is sure to be in demand from teams looking for an established QB. Rogers has had an exceptional career in the SEC breaking many records during his time with the Bulldogs.
Rogers was emotional immediately after the loss to Ole Miss but wasn’t giving too much away in words anyway. Although his body language suggested otherwise.
“Just blessed over the last four years. It hasn’t always been easy, hasn’t always been fun,” said Rogers. “Kinda hectic over the past 12 months.”
While the portal officially opens on December 4th, Mississipi State players are eligible to enter now as head coach Zach Arnett was sacked last week.
During his SEC career so far Rogers has thrown for 12,315 yards and 94 touchdowns.
Missisissippi State standout QB Will Rogers is expected to enter the transfer portal, sources tell @247sports.— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) November 24, 2023
Ranks No. 2 in SEC history with 12,315 career passing yards and fourth with 94 career passing TDs.https://t.co/qLWU7yitH6 pic.twitter.com/Y3M6GVC7Aw
Daniels for Heisman
baton rouge, la
As we get near to the end of the season, attention turns to awards and achievements. Whether that be conference or national championships or individual awards like the Heisman.
In the SEC, LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels has appeared as one of the favourites to end up in New York at the Heisman Award ceremony.
While the favourites appear to reside on the West Coast, there has been no stronger advocate of Daniels candidacy than LSU head coach, Brian Kelly. He has been on a one man quest to ensure his quarterback gets on that plane to Manhattan.
“If (Daniels) didn’t win (the Heisman Trophy) tonight he has got to be the leading candidate,” Kelly said after the Florida game.
“Unless the Heisman is just about popularity. If you want to be the most popular then fine, but he is the best player in college football”.
“You can say whatever you want, we are 7-3 and whoever else is undefeated. That doesn’t mean anything. What matters is who is the best player and he is the best player. A night like tonight kind of solidifies that. He did something tonight that no one has ever done. If that doesn’t make you the leading candidate, then maybe the Heisman isn’t really for the best player.”
Truth is, it’s hard to argue against Kelly’s view. Eyebrows were raised when Kelly compared this LSU offense and Daniels to the 2019 offense. That incarnation went on to win the National Championship and was crowned the greatest college football team ever.
In reality this Tigers offense is on fire with 1,115 total offense in last two games alone!
Speaking on the Paul Finebaum show this week, Kelly continued his crusade.
“I think he’s been the best player in college football and it isn’t even close” Kelly told Finebaum.
“he has taken over games that I have not seen in my 30 plus years”.
I talked to the Touchdown’s Kieran Horne about the Heisman race this week for the Touchdown podcast. We both agreed that Daniels should win the award in New York.
By the time this piece is written the Touchdown pod will be available so give it a listen!
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.