SEC Notebook: LSU last unbeaten standing

The Sports Xchange

October 19, 2015 at 11:10 am.

Oct 17, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) receives the snap from the shotgun and runs for a touchdown against the Florida Gators during the second quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 17, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) receives the snap from the shotgun and runs for a touchdown against the Florida Gators during the second quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

And so, after seven weeks, only one team remains unbeaten in the SEC, and it’s not named Alabama or Auburn, which were preseason favorites to make it through the first half of the season unscathed.

LSU made it to 6-0 with its 35-28 victory Saturday night tagging Florida with its first loss. That followed Alabama’s win over Texas A&M earlier in the day, giving the Aggies their first setback.

Only one other conference among the Power 5 conferences, the Pac-12 with 6-0 Utah, has only a single team unblemished at this stage.

There are three in the Big Ten with Ohio State, Michigan State (barely), and Iowa; three in the Big 12 with TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma State; and two in the ACC with Florida State and Clemson.

LSU needed a trick play to get the decisive touchdown in its win over the Gators, scoring on a fake field goal attempt in the fourth quarter.

“We showed flashes in all three phases — offense, defense, and special teams — in being a very talented team,” Tigers coach Les Miles said. “We just need to play consistently. If we do that, we can be 6-and-0.”

Um, coach?

“We are 6-and-0 anyway.”

LSU’s victory and the A&M loss left the Tigers at the top of the SEC West standings with a 4-0 conference mark, but plenty of mystery remains before the race is decided.

The Tigers play their final nonconference game of the season in their next contest, hosting Western Kentucky, then take Halloween weekend off to rest up for the trip to once-beaten Alabama on Nov. 7.

The Crimson Tide has a date with Tennessee next before also getting the open date on Halloween. The Tide has won four in a row since losing to Mississippi in the middle of September.

Texas A&M was the second unbeaten opponent to fall to the Tide in the last three weeks. Bama also knocked off then 4-0 Georgia to start the month.

“You have to hand it to this team,” Bama coach Nick Saban said of his Tide. “This is the second team ranked in the Top 10 that we’ve beaten on the road in some really tough places to play. I think you have to respect the competitive character of this team. My hat’s off to them.”

Speaking of Georgia, the Bulldogs managed to stay in the East Division race by squeaking by Missouri 9-6. That win coupled with Florida’s first league loss means the upper hand in the East Division race will be on the line when they meet Oct. 31 in Jacksonville.

The Gators would all but clinch the East’s berth in the SEC Championship Game with a win (Kentucky could still be mathematically in the race depending on how the Wildcats fare this week at Mississippi State). The Bulldogs would be tied record-wise with the Gators but hold the tiebreaker by winning.

ALABAMA (6-1, 3-1)

Game: Alabama 41, Texas A&M 23. The Crimson Tide scored three touchdowns on interception returns and junior RB Derrick Henry scored two rushing while amassing a career-best 236 yards to key the victory. After jumping out in front 28-6, the Tide saw the Aggies cut the deficit down to 28-20, but then put the game away on PK Adam Griffith’s two field goals and CB Minkah Fitzpatrick’s second pick-six of the day over the final 18 minutes.

Takeaway: The Tide had four interceptions overall with Fitzpatrick and SS Eddie Jackson getting two each. Fitzpatrick returned his 33 and 55 yards for scores, and Jackson took his first back 93 yards for the TD. His second led to an Alabama field goal. “The four interceptions were huge in the game,” coach Nick Saban said. “Three scores on defense is unprecedented and probably some kind of record. Minkah having two is fantastic for a freshman.” Alabama had one turnover with PR Cyrus Jones’ fumble at his 47-yard line leading to an Aggie touchdown.

Next: Vs. Tennessee, Oct. 24.

ARKANSAS (2-4, 1-2)

Game: Idle..

Next: Vs. Auburn, Oct. 24.

AUBURN (4-2, 1-2)

Game: Auburn 30, Kentucky 27. The Tigers jumped on Kentucky early and then made their 23-10 halftime lead stand up by scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats were driving at the end and had the ball at Auburn’s 44-yard line, close enough for a long pass that safety Johnathan Jones managed to knock from the grasp of Kentucky WR Jeff Badet inside the five-yard line, and LB Justin Garrett sacked UK QB Patrick Towles on fourth down to seal it.

Takeaway: Given some extra time to prepare for the Thursday night encounter, Auburn came out like a different team against Kentucky, scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions and kicking field goals on three of its next four. The Tigers then put together a workmanlike, 11-play, 67-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter for the decisive margin. “We wanted to be more aggressive,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “We’re starting to settle in, starting to get some rhythm in practice. The week off was big for us, and we wanted to come out with an aggressive mindset.” The Tigers were playing for the first time without dismissed WR D’haquille Williams, and senior WR Richard Louis responded with seven receptions for 154 yards. Six of his catches came in the first quarter and helped get the Tigers a 14-7 lead, and his final one came on Auburn’s final scoring drive.

Next: At Arkansas, Oct. 24.

FLORIDA (6-1, 4-1)

Game: LSU 35, Florida 28. The Gators came back from a 28-14 deficit to tie the game on WR Antonio Callaway’s 72-yard punt return for a touchdown with just over a minute left in the third quarter. They appeared to have held the Tigers to a field goal attempt on LSU’s ensuing drive, but the Tigers scored a touchdown on a fake, and the Gators were not able to respond.

Takeaway: The Gators were playing without starter Will Grier (suspended for a year) for the first time, but QB Treon Harris passed for 271 yards and two touchdowns despite facing heavy pressure. He was sacked five times in going 17-of-32 passing, and the Gators did him no help with their rushing game. RB Kelvin Taylor and Jordan Scarlett combined for only 36 yards on 16 rushes as the Gators netted only 55 yards rushing with the 35 yards in sacks deducted. “I thought Treon played his tail off,” coach Jim McElwain said. In addition to his long punt return, Callaway had 100 yards receiving on three receptions. “He had a heck of a game as a couple of guys did,” McElwain said. “I’m sure glad he’s on our team.”

Next: Vs. Georgia, Oct. 31 (at Jacksonville).

GEORGIA (5-2, 3-2)

Game: Georgia 9, Missouri 6. Georgia got field goals from senior PK Marshall Morgan in each of the final three quarters, the last with just 1:44 left in the game, to secure the win. The Bulldogs held the visiting Tigers to just 21 yards on 22 rushes and sacked QB Drew Lock four times in limiting him to an 11-of-26 passing night for just 143 yards.

Takeaway: The win marked the first time since 1995 that the Bulldogs had won a game without scoring a touchdown. They beat Kentucky 12-3 in Athens 20 years ago. A key play in the game for the Bulldogs actually came after a mistake. Missouri FS Ike Simon caught a deflected pass and returned the interception to Georgia’s one-yard line on the first play of the game. He was tackled there by Bulldogs WR Kenneth Towns, and that proved to be crucial. “That allowed our defense to do its thing and force them to kick,” coach Mark Richt said after his defense held the Tigers on three running plays. “That’s why you never quit. The defense bowed their necks and did a beautiful job of forcing the kick. Our defense played lights out. Keeping them out of the end zone was huge.”

Next: Vs. Florida, Oct. 31 (at Jacksonville).

KENTUCKY (4-2, 2-2)

Game: Auburn 30, Kentucky 27. The Wildcats amassed nearly 500 yards in total offense (497) and held the visiting Tigers to 407 yards and just one second-half score. The Wildcats were driving for what could have been the tying or go-ahead points in the final minute but WR Jeff Badet couldn’t haul in QB Patrick Towles’ long pass inside Auburn’s five-yard line on third down, and Towles was sacked on fourth down with just 25 seconds remaining.

Takeaway: The Wildcats had numerous dropped passes throughout the evening, but three in particular stood out. One could have given the Wildcats a touchdown, a second could have given them a key first down, and the third came when Auburn safety Johnathan Jones knocked the ball away from Badet in the closing seconds. A fourth key play was the interception Towles threw early in the game when he missed an open receiver in the end zone. “They kept us off balance in the first half, and I don’t feel like we weren’t quite physical enough early in the game,” coach Mark Stoops said. “We made some adjustments, played much better in the second half and had plenty of opportunities to get the game tied or go up. We never could do that and get that momentum. But, again, it comes down to the end.”

Next: At Mississippi State, Oct. 24.

LSU (6-0, 4-0)

Game: LSU 35, Florida 28. LSU got 180 yards rushing from RB Leonard Fournette and 202 through the air from QB Brandon Harris, but it was a trick play that provided the decisive touchdown for the Tigers. They got their final go-ahead touchdown on a fake field goal attempt, and their defense finished the job, stopping the final three Florida drives at their own 35-yard line and the Gators’ 38 and 49.

Takeaway: Sophomore QB Brandon Harris has heard all the criticism of his passing ability, but he may have shown his critics that he isn’t the weak link they think he is. With his team down 7-0 late in the first quarter, Harris led an 88-yard drive for the tying touchdown, completing four of five pass attempts for 56 yards. Then just before halftime and the Tigers up only 21-14 with 1:34 left, he took the Tigers 75 yards in just five plays, the big one a 50-yard touchdown completion to WR Malachi Dupre for a 28-14 lead at the break. “It’s nothing but motivation to me, and I can’t stand it,” Harris said of the criticism he gets. “I play with a chip on my shoulder every single week. I say this humbly. This team knows how talented we are passing the ball. Everybody knows what I can do throwing the football.”

Next: Vs. Western Kentucky, Oct. 24.

MISSISSIPPI (5-2, 2-1)

Game: Memphis 37, Mississippi 24. After jumping in front 14-0, the Rebels lost control of the game, surrendering 31 consecutive points to the undefeated Tigers. The Rebels had 480 yards of total offense, but only 40 of that came on the ground, and they gave up 491 to the Tigers.

Takeaway: Junior WR Laquon Treadwell caught a touchdown pass and also threw one, but after their first two possessions, the Rebels saw momentum shift the Tigers’ way. “I don’t want to take anything away from Paxton Lynch,” coach Hugh Freeze said of the Memphis junior, who has worked his way onto the fringes of Heisman talk. “He’s one of the best quarterbacks I’ve seen in my time here to make every throw and was very poised. But I was very disappointed in how we played and that starts with me. I have to take responsibility for us. We were as bad as you could get on third down getting off the field and, at times, converting those third downs.” The Rebels converted only four of 13 third-down opportunities and allowed the Tigers to convert 12 of 20.

Next: Vs. Texas A&M, Oct. 24.


Game: Mississippi State 45, Louisiana Tech 20. Mississippi State spotted the visitors two touchdowns before finishing the game on a 45-6 run sparked by QB Dak Prescott’s 347 yards and three touchdowns passing. Prescott also rushed for a score and WR De’Runnya Wilson had two touchdowns among his seven receptions.

Takeaway: Prescott joined Florida’s Tim Tebow and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel as the only SEC quarterbacks with 50 career touchdown passes and 30 career rushing touchdowns with his five-yard touchdown pass to Wilson in the second quarter. A senior, Prescott now is responsible for 87 touchdowns in his career, eighth-most in SEC history. “He has come a long ways and become a big-time quarterback,” coach Dan Mullen said. “Today I was impressed because he is starting to get back and find his balance on when to pull it down and start running. Prescott was happy to see his team regain control after the slow start. “We didn’t want to let them hang around and think they had a shot against us,” he said. “We had to take over immediately or the game was going to drag out.”

Next: Vs. Kentucky, Oct. 24.

MISSOURI (4-3, 1-3)

Game: Georgia 9, Missouri 6. The Tigers did a magnificent job defensively, holding the Bulldogs to just 298 yards in total offense, but they could never get anything going offensively themselves. They managed only 21 yards rushing and 143 passing, and after the Bulldogs took their final lead with 1:44 remaining, they turned the ball over on downs after losing seven yards on four plays following the ensuing kickoff.

Takeaway: The Tigers may have gotten a hint what their night was going to be like when they couldn’t score a touchdown after FS Ike Simons returned an interception to Georgia’s one-yard line on the game’s first play. Three running plays — the first a botched snap that lost two yards — failed to get the ball into the end zone. “We had a quarterback-center exchange problem, and we also had a signal problem,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “So we made two mistakes on those three plays.” Georgia also had problems moving the ball, but a fumble recovery and a couple of long punt returns helped the Bulldogs get into position for field goal tries. “We got tired,” Pinkel said. “Most of our players on the punt team are defensive players. They’re going out there and they’re getting tired.”

Next: At Vanderbilt, Oct. 24.


Game: South Carolina 19, Vanderbilt 10. The Gamecocks trailed 10-6 at the midpoint of the third quarter before regaining the lead on WR Pharoh Cooper’s 78-yard touchdown reception from QB Perry Orth with 6:34 remaining in the period. PK Elliott Fry’s third and fourth field goals of the game kept the Commodores at bay over the last quarter.

Takeaway: The victory made Elliott Shaw’s debut as South Carolina’s interim coach a successful one. He had been named to the position after Steve Spurrier’s abrupt resignation earlier in the week. “I just want to start out by saying this was one heck of a team win,” Elliott said. “Monday night we had no clue what was happening to tell you the truth. It kind of had us blindsided just like it did the rest of the country, the university and the state. I told our guys in there that, ‘You had your backs against the wall all week.’ They never batted an eye. They kept fighting. They kept playing, and they did everything we asked of them.” After regaining the lead on Cooper’s touchdown, the Gamecocks came up with three interceptions, a fumble recovery, and a stop on downs on Vandy’s last seven series.

Next: At Texas A&M, Oct. 31.

TENNESSEE (3-3, 1-2)

Game: Idle.

Next: At Alabama, Oct. 24.

TEXAS A&M (5-1, 2-1)

Game: Alabama 41, Texas A&M 23. The Aggies couldn’t get anything going with their ground game, and though they 284 yards through the air from QBs Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, that was more than offset by the four interceptions that led directly to three Alabama touchdowns. The Aggies cut a 28-6 deficit down to 28-20 early in the third quarter, but the visiting Tide responded with a couple of field goals and sealed the deal with another pick-six in the fourth quarter.

Takeaway: The turnovers were the obvious problem for the Aggies, but it wasn’t their only problem. They had no answer for Alabama RB Derrick Henry as the big junior accounted for 236 of Bama’s rushing total of 258 yards. “Mistakes against quality teams like that are amplified,” coach Kevin Sumlin said. “They caught three of our mistakes and ran them back for 21 points. There are a lot of lessons to be learned there for players and coaches alike.” Henry had 176 of his yards in the first two quarters. “On defense if one guy is out of his gap, a great back like Henry will find it and run it up the seam for 80 yards,” A&M DT Julien Obioha said. “I think we had little hiccups here and there, but once we went back to the drawing board and corrected them we did a good job of containing Henry.”

Next: At Mississippi, Oct. 24.

VANDERBILT (2-4, 0-3)

Game: South Carolina 19, Vanderbilt 10. The Commodores took a 10-6 lead midway through the third quarter, but never mustered much of anything offensively after that. On their first seven possessions, they turned the ball over three times on interceptions, lost a fumble, turned the ball over on downs once and punted twice.

Takeaway: The Commodores turned the ball over five times total, losing two of five fumbles in addition to QB Johnny McCrary’s three picks. Their defense did a decent job overall as well, holding the Gamecocks to just 272 yards in total offense. “We forced a lot of field goals,” coach Derek Mason said. “They were 2-of-13 on third down. We continue to be good on third-down situations, but there were just sometimes where we couldn’t get off the field fast enough.” The big swing was WR Pharoh Cooper’s 78-yard touchdown reception that gave South Carolina 13-10 lead. “Our football team continues to shoot ourselves in the foot in terms of turnovers,” Mason said, “and tonight the penalties on the offensive side of the ball were too many. We have to be better all the way around.”

Next: Vs. Missouri, Oct. 24.


–Those who follow LSU-Florida match-ups, which come every year despite their being in different divisions in the SEC, flashed back to 2010 when the Tigers pulled off a fake field goal attempt for the final touchdown of their 35-28 victory Saturday night.

They ran a similar play against the Gators that year to set up the decisive score in a 33-29 victory.

This time PK Trent Dominque’s got the touchdown himself on a 16-yard run when he took a pitch from holder Brad Kragthorpe, secured the ball after a slight bobble, and raced untouched and unchallenged around left end.

“I told Kragthorpe we are not throwing that thing unless you master it,” coach Les Miles said. “If you don’t throw it well, better than what has been thrown, I am not throwing it. But they did.”

Of course, Gators coach Jim McElwain wasn’t in Gainesville for that game five years ago (he was the offensive coordinator at Alabama then), and he had a slightly different take on this play.

“I give them credit. It was a heck of a call,” he said. “A gutsy call. But you know what? It’s kind of a badge of honor because they think they’ve got to fake one to beat us. It’s all right.”

–In an age when college football teams engage in scoring fests that produce basketball-like scores and four-figure yardage totals, Georgia and Missouri engaged in an old-fashioned defensive struggle in Athens.

Neither team scored a touchdown in the game, which the Bulldogs won 9-6 on PK Marshall Morgan’s three field goals from 29, 24, and 34 yards. He also missed from 26 yards. PK Andrew Baggett got Missouri’s only points on field goals of 20 and 24 yards. He also had a miss from 38 yards.

The Bulldogs ran and passed for 298 yards. The Tigers had a mere 164 yards of total offense, which teams like Baylor consider a mediocre quarter. Georgia coach Mark Richt was content with it, however.

“I’ll take that every day, just so long as there’s a victory at the end of it,” Richt said. “I’m thankful and happy right now. It’s not going to be pretty all the time, but the victory is pretty.”

Georgia came into the night averaging 37.2 points a game and had scored at least 31 in every outing but one, the 38-10 loss to Alabama. Missouri, though, was averaging only half that, 18.3 points per outing.

“It was a night of defenses,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “I’m very proud of the way our defense played. Those are difficult losses, as we continue to struggle on offense.”

–Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze made two decisions in the 37-24 loss to Memphis that he likely will regret for a while.

The first was calling on DT Robert Nkemdiche in a third-and-one situation at the Memphis 10-yard line with the Rebels holding a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter. Nkemdiche not only was stopped, he suffered a concussion that put him out the rest of the day.

The other questionable decision was to go for it on fourth-and-one from his own 34-yard line late in the second quarter with his team down only 17-14.

“That wasn’t a good decision,” Freeze said. “You’ve got about half a foot, thinking we really need to change this momentum and get some points is what you’re thinking, but, obviously, it was not a good decision.”

Memphis stopped QB Chad Kelly and cashed in on the play for a touchdown and 24-14 halftime lead.

–South Carolina is looking at its 19-10 victory over Vanderbilt as a new lease on life as well as the first win for interim coach Shawn Elliott.

“It was the start of the second half of the season today,” QB Perry Orth said. “We just tried to pretend that our record was 0-0. We had to come out and get a victory.”

Said WR Pharoh Cooper: “It was a fresh start to the season.”

The Gamecocks wore black jerseys and black pants for the first time since last November.

“The cool thing was the all-black cleats because we had never seen those,” Cooper said. “That turned the energy up in the locker room, early pregame, and that carried onto the field.”

–Auburn coach Gus Malzahn played it coy in the days leading up to his team’s game at Kentucky as to who would start at quarterback for the Tigers. Would it be redshirt freshman Sean White, who had started the previous two outings, or junior Jeremy Johnson, who was trying to work his way back into the good graces of the coaches after his stumbling start?

That doesn’t look to be much of an issue in the coming weeks.

White firmly established his role as the starter in the 30-27 victory over the Wildcats. He was 17-of-27 passing for 255 yards and was sacked only once.

“He did a good job,” Malzahn said. “He made some plays through the air and like I said, I thought the big thing was the third downs in the first half and keeping drives alive.”

“We left a couple of plays out there, but I think you can tell the offense was rolling pretty well,” White said. “We’ve got to keep that up.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Anytime the defense scores more than the offense, that’s a great day for the defense.” — Alabama LB Reggie Ragland, after the Crimson Tide scored three touchdowns on defense to only two for the offense in the 41-23 win over Texas A&M.



1. A Heisman showdown is looming in Tuscaloosa Nov. 7 when LSU visits Alabama. LSU RB Leonard Fournette recorded his eighth consecutive 100-yard rushing game with his 180 yards against a stout Florida defense while Tide RB Derrick Henry rushed for 236 yards and two touchdowns at Texas A&M, the 12th consecutive game he has scored a touchdown (the nation’s longest such streak and the longest in Alabama program history.)

2. Can Mississippi get it back together? The Rebels have lost two of four games since beating Alabama and welcome back suspended OT Laremy Tunsil this week, but injuries have taken a toll.

3. Georgia needs QB Greyson Lambert to step up to have a shot against Florida on Oct. 31. Since going a combined 33-of-35 passing in wins over South Carolina and Southern U., Lambert is a combined 48-of-88 (54.5 percent) the last three games, and that’s after going 23-of-32 against Missouri.

4. Florida’s situation without suspended QB Will Grier may not be as dire as first appeared. QB Treon Harris was fairly solid in the hostile environment at LSU, but it should be noted the Gators needed to go only 13 yards for their first touchdown after an LSU turnover, and they got their last TD on a punt return.

5. Auburn looks like it is getting its act together. QB Sean White has given the Tigers some stability on offense, and the Tigers could have a big say in the races in both divisions with games against Mississippi, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Alabama over the next six weeks